Now the Hard Part for Yesh Atid: Functioning as a Political Party

Yair Lapid's slate proved the sensation of the Israeli election, but will its diverse group of MKs be able to work together?

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Yesh Atid is the most autocratic of Israeli parties. The Haredi parties at least have a council of rabbis selecting the candidates, but Yair Lapid single-handedly chose his running mates and decided their places on the ticket. Unlike other party leaders, he had no previous political loyalties or commitments tying his hands. He tried to craft the most balanced and representative ticket that would appeal to the maximum number of voters.

Yesh Atid's 19 new Knesset members do not include even one former MK, but the list does contain two of Israel's most successful mayors, of radically different cities – Yael German of comfortable and central Herzliya, and Meir Cohen, for the last decade mayor of the gritty Negev town of Dimona. German, number three on the slate, is also the first of eight female MKs, the second-highest number of women ever fielded by a party in a Knesset term.

An avowed secularist with ties to the Reform movement, Lapid put two rabbis on his list. Modern-Orthodox Shay Piron is his number two, and Modern-Haredi Dov Lipman, who as a native of Maryland is that rare thing in Israeli politics, a truly Anglo MK. Immigrants from other sections of the Diaspora are equally well represented on the ticket, with judo champion Yoel Razvozov, born in Soviet Birobidzhan near China, and two Ethiopian-Israelis, social worker Shimon Solomon and journalist Pnina Tamano-Shata. Their election doubles the number of Ethiopian-Israelis ever to serve in the Knesset, and Tamano-Shata is the first Ethiopian-born woman.

As in every good Israeli party, Lapid also has security figures in the shape of former Shin Bet chief Jacob Perry (who as a former CEO and company chairman brings big-business acumen) and Mickey Levy, Jerusalem's popular police chief from the time of the second intifada's suicide bombings (who is usefully also a member of a politically influential Kurdish clan). Lapid assiduously balanced his party between right and left; even the two mayors come from opposite sides of the spectrum – German was a Meretz member and Cohen represented Yisrael Beiteinu.

Lapid has created an eminently electable blend, combining right and left, religious and secular, veteran Israelis and immigrants, and the worlds of academia, education, business, social activism, security, media and sports. But can this disparate group of people who have never worked together form a functioning political party, the second largest in the Knesset and most likely a senior partner in government?

Until now they have carried out a political party's first role – to get elected – extremely well. But since none of them were originally in the Knesset and those who have left their day jobs can easily return to them, they had very little to lose. Now a world of opportunities is opening up to them, and as much as they are grateful to Lapid, their allegiance is not total. Some of the new MKs could have joined other parties and got in the Knesset without his assistance, and those who couldn't probably believe they could have.

But the most intriguing question is will they be able to agree on political decisions. They are all signed on to Yesh Atid's platform, but that was the easy, theoretical part. Real-life political dilemmas, such as whether to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition or fight him from the opposition, are much more difficult and will be the first test of the new party.

Yair Lapid on Election Day. Credit: Rami Shlush

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