Zionist Union Pivots to Attack Yair Lapid, Win Centrist Voters

Labor MK Itzik Shmuli leads slate’s effortto poach supporters from the Yesh Atid party.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) at a press conference, Feb 25, 2015.
MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) at a press conference, Feb 25, 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Zionist Union on Wednesday launched a frontal attack on Yesh Atid and its chairman, Yair Lapid, for the first time, in an effort to attract enough of the party’s supporters to guarantee the joint slate headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni the largest number of votes in the March 17 election.

The publication of the state comptroller’s report on housing prices gave Zionist Union an opportunity to alter its campaign strategy, from focusing on attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud, to going after the former finance minister, who controls precious mandates in the center bloc.

In recent days there has been pressure exerted by some within the party to start attacking Yesh Atid, on the assumption that the only votes Zionist Union could draw from those to its right would come from potential Yesh Atid voters, while the chances of garnering support from the “soft right” in Likud or Moshe Kahalon’s Kulanu party were small.

“Our approach has to be to expand Zionist Union by two or three additional seats, and it’s clear to all that these votes can only come from Yesh Atid,” said a senior Zionist Union figure, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

Leading the charge is Labor MK Itzik Shmuli, who has recently begun to criticize Lapid sharply. Shmuly described the move as “intrabloc cannibalism,” adding, “I don’t expect Herzog to start focusing on Lapid in the campaign, but there are enough bulldogs on our slate who can do so. There’s no place for dispensations.”

At a press conference Wednesday with MK Stav Shaffir, Shmuli lashed out at Lapid and his conduct in the outgoing government.

“Lapid ran to be photographed at building sites to blame the whole world,” he said. “Constant complaining is neither leadership nor policy, and the idea that what he didn’t do with 19 MKs he will do with 10 is ridiculous. Lapid told young people two years ago to wait [to buy an apartment until his zero-VAT plan passed, which it didn’t], and those who listened to him lost more than 150,000 shekels [$38,000].”

Herzog and Livni addressed the decision not to campaign against Lapid directly in a chat session on Sunday with readers of the Haaretz website.

“The smart thing is to storm Netanyahu and not focus on parties in the Israeli center, which is our camp,” Herzog said.

Livni, however, didn’t hesitate to criticize Lapid saying, “We have to remember that he stuck his ‘bro’, [Naftali] Bennett, into the government. He is also responsible for money that went to the settlements.”

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