A patently apolitical candidate has become the big winner of the most patently apolitical elections ever held in Israel. A former columnist and TV presenter, who rarely wrote or spoke of political issues, not in his political columns nor in his TV weekly magazine, made an instant switch to politics, even then not uttering much in the way of political statements. On Tuesday, Israel gave him a resounding “yes!” Yes to the young, yes to the new, yes to the apolitical. He was anointed as crown prince, second in importance only to King Bibi, who turned out to be almost naked. Had it not been for the union with Yisrael Beiteinu, it is doubtful if Likud would have been the largest party in the coming Knesset. A hollow election campaign has resulted in an equally empty result – a bit of everything and a lot of nothing.
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Israeli elections yet again ended in a draw – a tie between left and right, if those are the correct terms in Israel. The elections deflated the Bennett legend, with Habayit Hayehudi turning out to be another Shas in the number of seats it won, no less and no more. Not what we thought and not what we feared. Israel on Tuesay voiced a very hesitant “yes”, which was almost a “no”, to the aspirations of Shelly Yacimovich to become a real alternative to Netanyahu. The party she heads will not even be the second largest in the Knesset, to its shame. This signals the end to her pretensions to reconstruct the Labor party, counting on drawing strength from the social protests two summers ago and from masses of young-old voters, obedient and conformist, who ended up not delivering the goods. Her dreadful sleight of hand, attempting to hide the occupation under the carpet, did not help her much.
In contrast, Israel said “yes” to a straight shooting party such as Meretz, which doubled its strength in a dignified showing. Israel also said “no” to the fragments of tiny parties that did not pass the electoral threshold. The good news: the racist Otzma Leyisrael as of this writing is out. The bad news: as of this writing, the subversive “Eretz Hadasha” (new country) didn’t make it either.
Above all, Israel made a decisive statement regarding what it wants: it wants nothing, only to be left alone. Voters want a quiet, good life, peaceful and bourgeois, and to hell with all those pesky nagging issues. Lapid epitomizes this attitude, being the role model for the all-Israeli dream. He looks good and dresses well, he’s well-spoken and well-married, lives in the right neighborhood and drives the right kind of Jeep.
With that, he doesn’t say much. He’s not an extremist, heaven forbid, that’s not who we are, nor does he stick his hand in the fire, that’s not us either. He stays away from any divisive issues, just as Israelis prefer. Even when they took to the streets in that magical summer of 2011, remnants of which event were still evident on Tuesday, their protests turned out in retrospect to be encapsulated only in songs by popular singers Shlomo Artzi and Eyal Golan, without real substance. Lapid fits this mold perfectly, as characterized by protest singing in the city square, with no clear agenda and angry protest. “Let us Live in Peace” was the slogan of the General Zionist party in the 1951 elections. Let us live in this land was the slogan of many Israelis Tuesday. Let us live without Arabs and Haredi Jews, without wars and terror attacks, without the world and its preaching. Now, as it was then, this represents pure escapism. On Tuesday, Israel affirmed escapism.
On Tuesday, Lapid acquired power that he most likely did not anticipate, and that he may not know what to do with. It is difficult to know if he can put some content behind the power given to him, but perhaps there is room for hope. For someone who managed to change his conduct and mannerisms in the course of the preceding campaign, shedding some of those that characterized his columns and TV appearances, growing and maturing in the process, it is possible that he will grow into the role thrust upon him on Tuesday. Perhaps with the power will also come some meaningful utterances and a willingness to fight.
A new day is dawning upon us, a dawn of a day in which Israel only wants to be left alone with all its comforts. Only grant it Lapid and quiet, the terrible quiet at the brink of the abyss.