The Rise of Yair Lapid

Do you remember Menachem Sheinkin? He was the one who originally suggested that a new city on the Mediterranean shore was named Tel Aviv in the 1920s. In modern-day Tel Aviv there is a Sheinkin Street, known to be one of the busiest and hippest places in Israel. Whether it is summer or winter, this is the part of the city that never sleeps. An Israeli version of the famous 1980s band Bananarama, made the area famous, when the group called Mango sung about “Living in Sheinkin.” The song captured the cliché image of the original Sheinkin woman dressed all in black, enjoying her coffee in Café Tamar, dreaming about making it big in the movies. The song was written by Yair Lapid.

Born in 1963, Yair Lapid is now the successful leader of the second-largest political party in Israel, Yesh Atid. In Hebrew it means, “There is a Future,” and apparently the Israeli electorate share Lapid’s vision for a brighter tomorrow. With 19 seats out of 120 in the Israeli Knesset (parliament), second only to the incumbent Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu alliance of 31 seats, Lapid shocked the pollsters who had only predicted him to garner around 10 seats. Yet, Lapid has now proved that he has was it takes – not only to make it big as a popular journalist in Israeli media, but also in politics.

Lapid is a newcomer on the political scene, yet he is well-known to the Israeli public. Lapid started his journalism career as a military correspondent for the weekly magazine published for the Israeli army, In the Camp. He also wrote for the mainstream Israeli daily Maariv. In 1988, he was appointed editor of the Tel Aviv local newspaper published by the Yedioth Ahronot group, around the same time he made the singing group Mango famous.

In 1991, he began writing a weekly column in a nationwide newspaper’s weekend supplement, at first for Maariv and later for its competitor, Yedioth Ahronoth. His column, “Where’s the Money?” later became his slogan in seeking political office. In 1994, he began hosting the leading Friday evening talk show on Israel TV’s Channel 1, and in that same year had an acting role in an Israeli picture, Song of The Siren. In 2005, Lapid was voted the 36th-greatest Israeli of all time in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet.

Politics is different, and although Lapid has been famous as a tough journalist for years, making politicians sweat, he now has to prove that he can handle the pressure at the receiving end. So far he has won the first round.

He surprised everyone with his extraordinary election, taking himself and eighteen others to the Israeli parliament. Lapid is not a novice when it comes to the art of knowing the political game from the inside. He is the son of former politician Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, head of the Shinui Party from 1999 until 2006, a party which regarded it as its primary task to curb the growth of religious influence in Israeli politics. Unrest among the middle class in Israel and this groups rising resentment against the many Orthodox Jews, has undoubtedly led to a massive voter support for Lapid, as he has chosen to copy his father’s policies in this matter.

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The last four years in Israeli politics has taken Israel in a more right-wing direction under Netanyahu, as he has ruled a coalition of right-wing and religious parties. However, it was actually the centrist party Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, who won the most seats in 2009. Tzipi Livni was not able to form a government, and since the Kadima party has imploded and only got a meager 2 seats in the 2013 election. Lapid has to be careful he will not experience the same, something that also occurred to his late fathers party Shinui.

Lapid has been elected on a platform, which includes eight key-points. His most important goal is to change the priorities in Israel, with an emphasis on civil life – education, housing, health, transport and policing, as well as improving the middle class, the part of society who just like himself loves to have coffee at Sheinkin Street. Western media has expressed a hope that the presence of Lapid can help getting the stalled peace-process between Israel and the Palestinians back on track. It is also one of his goals, as the official party platform of Yesh Atid expresses the desire to strive for peace according to an outline of two states for two peoples, while maintaining the large Israeli settlement blocs and ensuring the safety of Israel.

We yet have to see what kind of role Lapid and his fellow newcomers will play in the Israeli parliament, either as part of a new government or as the biggest opposition party. It will be interesting to see whether Lapid can make it big in politics, yet it seems as if the Israeli public has put their hope for a new future in his hands.

(David Jano earned his Master’s degree in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Southern Denmark. He is an expert on Israeli politics, society and culture, and has contributed to Danish television, radio and various written Danish Media)