Haaretz Poll: Most Israelis Believe Lapid Failed to Fulfill Campaign Promise

Developments involving the new draft bill have boosted the popularity of Yesh Atid, but not that of its leader. Elsewhere in the corridors of power, the presidential race is heating up.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Now that the dust has settled and Zionism is back big-time with esprit de corps, all that remains is to ask the nation about the new military draft law. This week, the bill successfully navigated the committee headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) on its way to the Knesset chamber.

It turns out that only a small minority is buying the pompous assertion by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, in a press conference on February 20, that “Zionism has returned … A legal and historical aberration of 65 years has been righted.” The overwhelming majority of the public – almost two-thirds of those asked in a Haaretz-Dialog poll this week – believes that the new law will not “equalize the burden” of military service. Lapid will succeed in pushing through the legislation – on which he has staked his entire reputation – but in the eyes of most Israelis he failed to fulfill the promise on which he and his party rode into the Knesset: to introduce true equality in army service between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular population, and between the religious-Zionist movement and the secular public.

The average citizen has too much on his mind to dwell on legal niceties. But when he finds out about the infuriating discrimination in favor of the soldiers of the hesder yeshivas (which combine religious studies with military service) that’s received Lapid’s support, and when he hears that draft of Haredim will not begin before the end of 2017, when draftees will be between 24 and 26 years old and have two or three toddlers – he’ll snort with contempt, “This is the return of Zionism? It’s the return of cynicism.”

It’s undeniable that the process of the law’s passage has yielded political dividends for Lapid. His party shows a significant gain in this week’s poll. About half of the disappointed voters who had abandoned Yesh Atid in recent months have returned to the fold. This is certainly due to the headlines about the draft law, but also due to the weakening of two center-left parties, Meretz and Labor. They lost a combined total of three seats to Lapid.

Still, the public is very much able to distinguish between Lapid’s party, on the one hand, and Finance Minister Lapid and premiership candidate Lapid, on the other. After almost exactly a year in office, the former TV presenter is clinging tenaciously to his ranking as the least highly regarded minister in the government. The poll’s results are simply embarrassing: 18 percent are satisfied with his performance as finance minister, 5 percent think he’s suited to be prime minister.

By comparison, Labor Party leader MK Isaac Herzog – who does not have a ministerial portfolio and is not succeeding in taking off as opposition leader – gets a much better result than Lapid’s in the poll under the rubric of “best suited to be prime minister.”

Three other senior ministers – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – come out better than Lapid when it comes to respondents’ satisfaction with their performance. Two comments about this:

1. Despite the charm attack, the moderation, the maturity and the responsible behavior shown by Lieberman in recent months, only a third of the citizens polled are satisfied with his performance as foreign minister. The reason: He is still perceived as the salient representative of the politics of the previous generation.

2. Ya’alon continues to top the list in the survey this week in terms of the public’s satisfaction with performance, but his ratings are lower than before. There can be only one reason for this: his ferocious attack on U.S. Secretary of State John (“messianic, obsessive”) Kerry. Those words, which were not intended to see the light of day or a printing press, were strategically damaging to Ya’alon. The public is fond of him as an expert defense minister – but to declare war on the United States? That’s a bit hard to swallow.

Most Israelis think that the recent barbs hurled at Kerry by not only Ya’alon, but also ministers Gilad Erdan, Uri Ariel and Yuval Steinitz, are damaging to the Israeli national interest. The opposite approach, as expressed by ministers Lieberman and Gideon Sa’ar, who came out strongly against their colleagues’ foaming at the mouth, is more accepted by the political center, including the sane segments of the right wing. But not by the vulgar MKs (such as Orit Strock and Zvulun Kalfa from Habayit Hayehudi) or by their ignorant colleagues (such as MK David Rotem, from Yisrael Beiteinu), who this week enlightened U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro with their insights about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel-U.S. relations.

And speaking of the United States, that’s where Netanyahu is headed at the beginning of next week, to meet with President Barack Obama, with a strong tailwind. A clear majority of the Israeli public supports his positions, including the most important of them: his insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state to symbolize the end of the conflict and all claims.

Netanyahu has succeeded in burning this narrative into the consciousness of most Israelis. For that alone he deserves a marketing award from the Israel Advertising Association. Nor does the nation cotton to the idea of freezing construction in the territories – something currently under discussion between the Israelis and the Americans.

As far as is known, the prime minister does not intend to reprise the total freeze on construction building that we saw in 2009. The proposed wording is for Israel to execute a freeze “in the area of planning and tenders outside the settlement blocs,” with various qualifications. Netanyahu might accept that, knowing that no one in the coalition will quit over this. Habayit Hayehudi and the hawks in Likud will whine and demonstrate on the rocky slopes of the West Bank, but they will be in no hurry to tear themselves away from the udders of power.

Man of culture

The race for president of Israel is heating up. MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah) officially announced his candidacy this week. Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom is telling MKs he has decided to run. MKs Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) are at it day and night. But the “external” candidates aren’t sitting idly by, either. Nobel laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman, 73, met recently with Lapid. “What will you do,” Lapid reportedly asked him, according to information made available to Haaretz (not from Shechtman), “if after the next election there is a numerical tie between Yesh Atid under my leadership, and Likud under Netanyahu’s leadership?”

Shechtman replied that he would have to examine the whole map, speak to the leaders of the other parties and decide which candidate stands a better chance of forming a coalition. The meeting ended without Lapid promising Shechtman anything, but it shows what’s running through his mind.

The scenario of the 2009 election, in which Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, won 28 seats vs. 27 for Netanyahu’s Likud, but in which the latter got the nod from President Shimon Peres because of various machinations, must not recur. As far as Lapid is concerned, the leader of the party with the most Knesset seats has to form the government, irrespective of what the MKs in other parties recommend.

The finance minister’s bureau said in response that they do not comment on private conversations conducted by the minister. Shechtman, though, confirmed the report. “I was definitely asked about how I would behave as president if there were a tie between the two parties, and I said that my consideration would be which of the candidates has a better chance of forming a coalition.”

I asked Shechtman how things are going. “I’ve already met with about a third of the MKs,” he said. “I won’t say how many signatures I’ve collected, if any, or what I received and what I was promised. That will become public knowledge only when I submit my candidacy to the speaker of the Knesset.” (A prospective candidate for president has to get the signatures of 10 MKs who support him before submitting his candidacy.)

I saw a picture of you in the paper with [Mizrahi singer] Moshe Peretz, and I felt a bit uncomfortable for you.

“You’re not the only one,” he said. “I was invited to an event in the Haifa sports stadium, because I am an honorary citizen of the city. I enjoyed myself. I saw it as a cultural experience. I think I was the oldest person in the audience. When I attend local concerts or the ballet, I am sometimes the youngest person in the audience.”

Still, it looks a little embarrassing. In the past, you said we need more singers, and not only Mizrahi ones [referring to those of Middle Eastern and North African origin]. That made waves. You were perceived as anti-Mizrahi. Is that what made you attend the event? As a type of apology?

“Look,” he replied, “I went and I saw it as a cultural experience. Sometimes I go to Kazakhstan, or to Mongolia, and I attend events of culture there. I see that as a cultural experience, too.”

Do you feel good wallowing in the political mire?

“Don’t belittle my political skills. They’re no less good than those of some MKs.”

Spiteful arrangement

Next week, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will have gone four months without a chairman. It’s an unprecedented scandal, parliamentary veterans say. It was decided this week that this key committee will continue to hobble along like this for the next three months, until the end of May. Then we’ll see. Netanyahu and Lapid are entrenched in their positions, and to hell with the country’s security. They have agreed that the chairmanship of the committee will rotate between MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) and Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid). They are divided over the question of who will start. Bibi wants Tzachi, Yair wants Ofer.

In preschool, when two children fight over a toy, the kindergarten teacher holds onto it until agreement is reached. In this case, the kindergarten teacher is the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein (Likud). Edelstein decides ad hoc who will chair the sessions of the full committee, which rarely meets, and the sessions of the subcommittee dealing with the secret services, which oversees the activity of Israel’s espionage and intelligence organizations. Time after time, Edelstein has asked Hanegbi to chair the meetings of the small, secret subcommittee. Why? Because Netanyahu asked him to do so.

Hanegbi is pleased with the way things are going. Even without an official title he is doing what he knows and loves, even if only partially. Not only does he have a long resume – he chaired the committee for four years in the past – he also served as the minister responsible for strategic affairs and was a member of the political-security cabinet for many years. Shelah has written two books, along with newspaper columns, some about sports and some about security. He’s only been in the Knesset for a year. When it comes to understanding and orientation about macro-security issues, there’s no comparison between him and Hanegbi. It’s like comparing an army mess cook with a Michelin chef.

Why is Shelah so eager to head the committee now and not in another six months? In the meantime, he can attend all the important forums and learn a thing or two from people who are a little less pretentious, such as Hanegbi, Ben-Eliezer or MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima). The problem is apparently Lapid’s insistence; he doesn’t grasp the fact that it will only keep Shelah from ever becoming the committee chair, because the present arrangement is convenient for Netanyahu and will last until the next election. Lapid is cutting off his nose to spite his face. That’s apparently what’s known as the “new politics.”

Heart of the matter

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation shot down a bill sponsored by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz), which would allow residents of isolated settlements to leave their homes in return for state financial aid. The idea is to make it possible for them to buy a home inside the Green Line.

There are an estimated 80,000 settlers living on the other side of the separation barrier but outside the planned settlement blocs. Similar private bills for “evacuation-compensation” have been torpedoed by previous governments, too.

In the present case, the representatives of Likud-Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi voted against Gilon’s bill, as expected. But so did Lapid and Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid), who support the evacuation concept. Their rationale: Issues like this need to be resolved in negotiations.

The chairwoman of the legislation committee, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who backed a similar proposal in the previous Knesset, when she was the opposition leader, abstained in the vote. In her heart she is with the idea; in her body she is “in the room” of the negotiations.

Conclusion: The state that sent its citizens to settle throughout the West Bank is unwilling to allow those who have had enough the option of making choices. It prefers to leave them where they are as prisoners, hostages of a peace agreement that may never be achieved.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid.Credit: Tomer Apelbaum

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