A little spat between Yair Lapid and a group of left-wing activists on Facebook earlier this week has created a small stir in the blogosphere, but deserves attention because of some wider things it says about Israeli politics.
While the new politician has begun to expand on his views in public appearances, his main dialogue with the public is still taking place through his Facebook page. On Sunday, members of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli NGO campaigning for the right of Palestinian civilians to travel freely to and from the West Bank and Gaza, posted a question on his page. "We were wondering what your position would be regarding the passage of four female students of gender studies and human rights from Gaza to the West Bank," they asked. The security services have refused their applications to travel.
Lapid answered that "I always support the position of the security establishment. The IDF is not an 'apparatus of darkness,' but a moral army protecting our lives." His response drew a flurry of angry retorts to which he answered in similar vein – "I understood your question, but just didn't give you the answer you wanted. I repeat: in this matter, whatever the security establishment decides, I accept and support fully."
Naturally, this answer further enraged the facebookers and shortly after, Lapid decided he had enough of them and posted "OK, bye," and wouldn't be drawn any more on the subject. (For a fuller account of the engagement in Hebrew, click here).
Most of those commenting on the web seemed to think Lapid was exhibiting a singular lack of understanding of the role of a politician to be holding the military and security services to account – but they are wrong. Lapid understands exactly what a politician's job is – to get elected.
The super-patriot Mr. Middle Israel Lapid knows exactly where his votes will be coming from and that certainly isn't the ideological left-wing. The secular middle-class voters he hopes for will have voted last time around for one of these four parties, Likud, Labor, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu, and as much as these parties may seem to differ on ideology and personality, there is little to distinguish between the majorityof their voters. They are not rabid Arab-haters, but they will take the security side instinctively any day. Not being settlers or religious, they are not instinctively opposed to a Palestinian state, but they don't want Israel taking any risks in establishing it. Lapid knows better than to bother them with these issues - in his black and white vision of politics, the IDF is always good and just, and the ultra-Orthodox who don't serve in the army and the Palestinians who throw stones at the soldiers are always bad.
There are no votes for Lapid in engaging with the Left, but dissing them can only bring him electoral gains.
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