The centrist’s simple but emotionally profound Zionism could lead to an Israel less at war with itself
When Yair Lapid’s father, the well-known journalist and politician Tommy Lapid, was on his deathbed, he said to his son: I’m leaving you the state of Israel.
Tommy, a Holocaust survivor, meant that metaphorically; the generation of survivors was entrusting the gift of a Jewish state to its children. But with the rise of Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid (There Is a Future), which emerged from nowhere to become Israel’s second-largest party in yesterday’s election, Yair’s “inheritence” could become literal. More than any other politician aside from Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, Yair may now determine the next phase of Israeli politics.
“Yair,” not Lapid: We call our politicians Bibi and Shelly and Tzipi with a misleading intimacy, when in fact we can’t bear most of them. But even Israelis who wrongly dismiss him as a lightweight—a former TV talk show host and heart-throb, with no government or combat experience—tend to like Yair.
That’s because he is frankly, unapologetically, in love with the state of Israel. There is nothing complicated about Yair’s Israeliness. He is not a hyphenated Israeli, whose loyalty to the state depends on its fulfillment of an ideological agenda. Yair conveys the impression of a man comfortable in all parts of Israel. He is a secular Israeli who has shown increasing interest in Judaism. He supports a two-state solution and opposes settlement construction outside the large settlement blocs. Yet he launched his campaign from the West Bank city of Ariel, sending the message that settlers are part of Israel too. He opposes the wholesale draft exemption of ultra-Orthodox young men, but he advocates a gradualist approach and has an ultra-Orthodox rabbi on his Knesset list. He emerged as the voice of middle class disaffection, yet included in his list two Ethiopians, representatives of one of the country’s poorest constituencies. (Other parties tend to include a token Ethiopian.)