Yair Lapid resigned Sunday from "Ulpan Shishi," Channel 2's Friday night tribal bonfire, which he presented for years. But it would be inaccurate to say that only now he made his move into politics. For two years now, and especially in the past 12 months, Lapid has been wallowing in politics.
He received advice from professionals and friends in Israel and abroad. He recruited the support of mayors, heads of local councils, rabbis, former IDF officers and celebrities. He published a so-called social covenant that is actually a political platform, muttering tendentious asides in prime time.
Above all, he worked at being Yair Lapid: the ultimate Israeli. The one who understands us - the sane majority that is employed, serves in the army and pays taxes. The one who talks our language and expresses our desires, bleeds when pricked, laughs when tickled and dies when poisoned.
His resignation from "Ulpan Shishi" marks the end of a one-man masquerade that went well beyond the limits of good taste, journalistic ethics and personal integrity. Lapid's advisers said he should have waited until the last minute. But in the past few weeks the pressure increased and he was forced to resign by his Channel 2 news employers who understood, in unfashionable tardiness, that every masquerade must eventually come to an end.
As of today, the tables have turned on Lapid. Instead of asking questions and raising eyebrows at the answers, he will be forced, for the first time, to choose sides, give answers and make decisions.
The polls now are favorable, giving him between 10 and 15 Knesset seats, making him an immediate threat to Tzipi Livni and Kadima, whose voters are far from faithful. His emergence will also make life harder for other first-time political parties such as Eldad Yaniv's National Left and Daphni Leef's protest party.
After the secular-religious tensions of the past few weeks, Lapid's virtual party has even made inroads in Likud and the right-wing bloc - warming up the cooling-off bill for journalists that will be presented to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee next week.
When the news of Lapid's decision reached the cabinet meeting Sunday, some ministers could barely wipe the smiles off their faces, since they are eagerly awaiting a chance to rough him up. When the popular IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak joined the Center Party in the winter of 1998, during Benjamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, Reuven Rivlin said Likud and other parties would "wear down" Lipkin-Shahak, a pun on the retired general's name.
It worked wonderfully, and the party slipped from 20 MKs in the opinion polls to a sorry six in the election. You could imagine a similar pun played on Lapid's name, which means torch. And you wouldn't be too surprised if his torch burns out in the months still remaining until the elections.
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