Yair Lapid’s Road to Premiership Is Paved With Good Intentions

The former finance minister will do well in the election because he’s engaged with what bothers Israelis. Only when he becomes prime minister will he have no choice but to engage with the country’s real problems.

Alon Idan
Alon Idan
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Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid at a campaign event for senior citizens in Netanya, January 22, 2015.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid at a campaign event for senior citizens in Netanya, January 22, 2015. Credit: David Bachar
Alon Idan
Alon Idan

Yair Lapid will do well again in Tuesday's elections. He’ll do well because he’s got good intentions and that’s no small thing. People recognize and appreciate good intentions.

And while Lapid makes quite a few mistakes – not just regarding facts and details but also in the way he analyzes elements of reality – the intensity of his good intentions overrides them.

That’s as it should be: People prefer someone who insists on aiming at the good and occasionally making a mistake over someone who doesn’t aim at the good and is right most of the time.

In addition, Lapid is not cynical. He doesn’t use the platform called politics to realize hidden desires. His effort is not about money and fame: Lapid is rich and famous enough. He truly wants to wield influence, to change reality.

People discern that lack of cynicism, that genuine intention, they hold it in high esteem and they will give him another chance.

But Lapid’s real strength lies not in his good intentions by themselves but rather in the way his good intentions and field of vision are intertwined.

Lapid’s field of vision is Israel or, alternatively, the Israelis. And while that field of vision includes some serious conceptual problems — the Zoabis, the attitude toward the ultra-Orthodox — it’s important to grasp that this is the only zone in which Lapid’s good intentions are implemented.

He is truly convinced that the story of “the Israelis” is the only one there is. That deep self-conviction is the focal point of the attraction to him.

He makes it possible to imagine Israel – with its virtues and its troubles – without that thing that bothers people all the time out of the corner of their eye. Lapid is the ideal candidate for the voter who is capable of erasing the Palestinians from his field of vision.

Alternative views

Lapid also has to be understood against the background of the other possibilities.

The Labor Party takes no special interest in the Palestinians, but it is interested in a “diplomatic process,” defined as killing time with a smile. The desire for a diplomatic process presumes the existence of a diplomatic problem that needs to be resolved.

That problem is called the Palestinians. For the Israeli who doesn’t want to look to the side, that hint is enough to foul his mood.

Likud, too, is occupied with the Palestinians, albeit in the opposite mode, such as through the “Jewish nation-state” legislation.

The Israelis, who want to address only the concrete content of Israeliness, don’t understand the need to augment the weight of the Jewish component in their self-definition.

They conclude that there’s an external problem, most likely with people who aren’t Jews. Those people are called Arabs. Dealing with Arabs necessarily leads to dealing with the Palestinians. There goes the neighborhood.

That’s the reason Lapid opposed the Jewish nation-state bill and that’s the reason Lapid doesn’t talk about peace. These two salient ways to recognize the Palestinian problem – from the right and from the left – threaten to expand Lapid’s field of vision and thereby to vaporize it.

That’s also the reason that the problems that interest Lapid – equality in bearing the burden of security, zero VAT for first-time home buyers, corruption – are actually not problems but solutions. Dealing with them solves the problem of having to deal with the Big Problem.

Being occupied with the Israelis’ conditions keeps Israel’s existential problem out of sight. The more the eye is engaged in finding homes for young couples, the less it is engaged with non-Israelis who are engaged in trying to obtain food. The more the consciousness fills up with the question of drafting the Haredim, the less room it has for the injustice caused by the draft. And the more space that the media devotes to corruption, the less there is to describe the harsh rule over millions of non-Israelis.

That’s why Lapid, in the end, will be prime minister. Precisely because of his limited field of vision. Because the yearning for an imagined state — one that neither opposes nor supports the Palestinians but simply keeps them out of sight — is simply too alluring.

At a certain point, more and more Israelis will wish to be part of this imagined reality, will wish to deal with the “really important things”: real estate and the kids.

But when this purely imagined reality takes center stage, it will have no choice but to collide with the actual reality. And only then will the core issue come to light: that there’s no such thing as Israelis, no such thing as Jews, no such thing as Arabs, no such thing as Palestinians. There’s just human beings.

And you can’t hide the suffering of human beings. Not with imagination and not with good intentions.

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