In Israel's Biggest Opposition Party, Lawmaker Challenges Yair Lapid to Leadership Vote

Ofer Shelah, who promotes a more left-wing and less centrist version of Yesh Atid and is considered to be the brains behind Lapid, calls for a primary and declares he’ll run for party leadership

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Ofer Shelah at the Knesset in Jerusalem, August 2020.
Ofer Shelah at the Knesset in Jerusalem, August 2020.Credit: Oren Ben Hakon
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Prominent Yesh Atid lawmaker Ofer Shelah announced Tuesday that he had asked party chairman Yair Lapid to hold a primary for the leadership, and that he intends to run.

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“I have presented to Yair Lapid in recent days the urgent need to refresh the face of Yesh Atid, well before the next election,” he wrote. “It has to start with an immediate, open primary for the role of party chairman. I will run, and I will be happy if there are others. Without it, we won’t be an alternative and we won’t win.”

Shelah claimed that even before the last election and the break-up from Kahol Lavan he was already insisting that the party needed to change course to provide a credible alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It isn’t enough to say ‘our hands our clean’ and to mute any other message,” he said.

Yair Lapid attends an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, Israel, on September 15, 2019.
Yair Lapid attends an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, Israel, on September 15, 2019.Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

The party now needs to propose an “entire conceptual alternative,” claims Shelah, far-reaching enough to encompass “all walks of life.”

He added: “We will set the date. We will prepare and rebuild through this a real clarification of who we are. Without it, we won’t win.”

Yesh Atid said in a statement that Shelah and Lapid spoke before Shelah made his announcement, adding that the party was “looking into the issue.”

Over the years, Shelah pushed Yesh Atid leftward by promoting for instance cooperation with the Arab-majority Joint List. He detested the partnership with Kahol Lavan and worked to dissolve it. Specifically, he disliked the alliance with Moshe Ya’alon and his Telem movement, which was considered to be the most right-wing element within Kahol Lavan.  

Yesh Atid announced last November that it would extend Lapid’s term as party leader through the 25th Knesset, two past the current body. It was the third time that Lapid was extending his position as party leader since founding the party in 2012.

Yesh Atid first ran in 2013 for the 19th Knesset, and the party rules at he time guaranteed Lapid his position for two Knesset terms only. The party constitution was secretly amended in 2016, when Lapid’s term as party leader was extended through the 22nd Knesset – giving him unlimited power with no possibility of ousting him. It has not been amended since.

Shelah and Lapid have been friendly for many years. Shelah has contributed to the party’s founding and served as Lapid’s political right-hand man for years, steering the party’s political moves. He is considered to be the brains behind Lapid, who has better public presentation skills. In 2015, when Shay Peron left, Shelah became the second highest ranking member of the party.

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