I work out in the same gym as anchorman Yair Lapid. He doesn't know me, and I respect his privacy. Last week I saw him there, lying on the bench, lifting weights. He was by himself, without guards, aides or spokesmen, but it seemed that his solitude was only temporary. Lapid is heading toward a political career and has a good chance of doing well in the next elections due to the public's disgust with the "politicians" and the longing for a civil agenda to replace the exhausting and hopeless arguments on the territories and occupation.
Lapid is marketing himself as a representative of the authentic Israeli: He respects the Bible and combat soldiers, opposes religious coercion and loves Hebrew songs. He appeals to the nonreligious who pretend they want change but are really clinging to the Israel of old, before Shas appeared on the scene. Like his father, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, Yair is a conservative in the guise of a reformer. But unlike his father, who enjoyed arguing and starred in screaming matches on television, the son wants to be loved and hates confrontation. His unclear opinions on peace and the territories have turned him into a comfortable partner in every future coalition.
Lapid's campaign focuses on education. This is logical from a marketing perspective: A survey by the New America Foundation three months ago shows that education worries the Israeli public more than peace, security and crime. While the other politicians are busy with freezing settlements and the Iranian threat, Lapid has taken over the education corner. He adopted the idea of the Finance Ministry's Budgets Division to dismantle the Education Ministry's centralized bureaucracy and transfer control of the education system to the local authorities. Politicians close to Lapid include many prominent mayors, according to the media. The upcoming deal is clear: They will bring him the grassroots and he will reward them with funds and influence.
Anyone who runs a political campaign must have enemies, and opposing Lapid is Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. Their disagreement is apparently over education issues such as the number of matriculation exams and the better-off kids who get to go on trips to Poland. But it's hard not to see that Sa'ar and Lapid are fighting over the same voters. Both belong to the same age group, one grew up in north Tel Aviv and moved to the city center, and the other grew up in the center and moved to the north. Both are mainstays of Tel Aviv nightlife. Sa'ar is a bit more right wing, Lapid a little more nonreligious, but the differences are trivial. It will be an interesting battle.
As a politician in the making, Lapid is enjoying unprecedented public exposure. Every Israeli recognizes his face from television, gossip columns and billboards. His opinions and ideas have appeared in his hundreds of opinion pieces for Yedioth Ahronoth. His personal life and family history have been exposed down to the most intimate details. It's impossible to accuse him of a lack of transparency.
But his openness also has a price: Lapid will soon have to decide if he wants to be anchorman Haim Yavin or education minister Zalman Aran when he grows up. It's impossible to present the news at night and manage a campaign in the morning. Lapid can continue to write his newspaper columns and even host a talk show. But he will have to give up on his Friday night TV show, even if, as he says, he "will decide at the last minute before the elections" on whether to enter politics. The time has come, even without the law for a cooling-off period that they are trying to force on him.
Lapid's second problem relates to the relationship between the rich and the government. As the former star of Bank Hapoalim's ad campaigns, he will be accused of being a servant of the tycoons. His relations with the "good government organizations" have been strained for a long time. He will need a partner to make up for that, and Menachem Mazuz seems to be the obvious candidate. Mazuz's intentions are not clear, but like Lapid, he talks like a political wannabe. In an interview with Ari Shavit, the former attorney general surprised us with a call for same-sex marriages in Israel - which puts him squarely on Lapid's side, "the secular rabbi," and against the religious parties.
It's not clear how Lapid will connect with the person who put Ehud Olmert, his father's close friend, on trial. But the match between the celebrity-educator and the corruption buster looks like a winning ticket. And until the race starts seriously, Lapid should continue working out in the gym, for as long as he can enjoy quality time with himself.
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