Yair Lapid, Surprise of the Israeli Election

TV exit polls put media star's Yesh Atid party in second place with 19 seats.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The big surprise of this election was undoubtedly former journalist Yair Lapid.

The last polls published before election day showed his Yesh Atid party getting about 12 seats. But Tuesday night exit polls showed him getting 19 out of the Knesset's 120 seats, making his the second-largest party in the Knesset. The result confounded all expectations, and significantly changes the likely composition of the next government.

His political career officially began on January 8, 2012, when Lapid, then a Channel 2 television presenter and a columnist for Yedioth Ahronoth, announced he was resigning from Channel 2 to run in the next election. At the time, polls predicted he would win 15 seats.

When he unveiled the first member of his new party's slate, he drew immediate fire: Jacob Perry was both a former Shin Bet security service chief and a former chairman of the board of Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, and among other complaints, his critics charged that a man who had earned millions as a bank chairman couldn't possibly represent the middle class.

Lapid was also criticized for his party's bylaws, which grant him complete control of the party and prevent him from being ousted as its chairman until 2020.

But over the ensuing months, Lapid put together a diverse slate. It included Rabbi Shay Piron, one of the leaders of Tzohar, an association of moderate religious Zionist rabbis; Herzliya Mayor Yael German, formerly of Meretz; Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen, formerly of Yisrael Beiteinu; journalist Ofer Shelah; and Dr. Aliza Lavie, a university lecturer in political science and author of "A Jewish Woman's Prayer Book."

Lapid's campaign slogan was "We've come to change things." Among the changes he promised at his opening campaign rally were the following: "Everyone will serve the state," "Our children will be able to buy apartments," and "We'll pay less for gasoline and electricity."

Leaned toward joining government

Lapid believes the way to have an impact is by serving in the government, and therefore, he repeatedly said his preference would be to join the coalition. Nevertheless, he also stressed continually, "We won't agree to serve as a fig leaf for a government of the right and the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox]" meaning he would refuse to enter the government unless he were joined by one of the other center-left parties, such as Tzipi Livni's
Hatnuah or Shelly Yacimovich's Labor.

He also said his No. 1 condition for joining the government is that it must adopt a plan to ensure that the Haredim join the army and the workforce. Another condition is that it must conduct negotiations with the Palestinians.

Lapid's plan for drafting the Haredim calls for continuing their existing draft exemptions for another five years, but allowing them to work during this period rather than conditioning the exemption on their being full-time yeshiva students.

During this period, the government would prepare the infrastructure for a civilian service program that would constitute an alternative to military service for those who aren't drafted.

Lapid unveiled his diplomatic program in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. It calls for negotiating with the Palestinians, but says that Israel won't
recognize a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and that Jerusalem will remain undivided under Israeli sovereignty.

"We won't sit in a government that once again tries on various pretexts, and due to narrow political considerations to water down our obligation to the
future, and also to the present," Lapid said last night. "We must not lose the State of Israel's Jewish majority. ... Without an agreement [with the
Palestinians], Israel's Jewish and Zionist identity is in danger."

Israeli actor, journalist and author Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, visits a polling station in the coastal city of Netanya, on January 22, 2013.Credit: AFP

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