Lapid Says Party Leadership Primaries Not on the Horizon: 'No One Will Give Me an Ultimatum'

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah says party leader evasive, afraid of being challenged as Lapid says other means of democratizing the party are under consideration

Chaim Levinson
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Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 17, 2020.
Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. Credit: Adina Wollman / Knesset Spokesperson's Office
Chaim Levinson

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid told party members Monday that he will not be holding a primary election this year, after a prominent lawmaker from his party had requested he do so following nearly a decade of leading the faction.

In his opening statements to the Yesh Atid meeting, Lapid said: “There will be a contest, I welcome one, the time has come, but we will do everything without pressure. Nobody is going to give me an ultimatum.”

Lapid said he will examine various alternatives for democratizing the party, and that the aim would be to implement that process after the first party conference is held in 2021.

His remarks followed a request from MK Ofer Shelah to hold a primary contest for party leader before the next national election. In response to Lapid’s statements, Shelah posted on Facebook that "instead of overcoming the challenge, for the good of a regime alternative and for his own good as well, Lapid is evasive."

He added, "No one is giving him an ultimatum, as he says. I didn't give him an ultimatum. I put on the table, with no threat, the only thing that will lead Yesh Atid to its desired destination and to what the Israeli public needs, as I see it."

Shelah continued, "We need new audiences and new ideas. We need to put our truth on the table, and to give solutions to the Israeli public. This is the only way it will believe in us during this time of crisis, and will be ready to put its faith in our hands," he said. "Strong people are not afraid of a challenge like this."

Lapid said that “in Yesh Atid there are thousands of active members who have been fighting in the trenches for years. With their sweat at [protests at] intersections and bridges, they have earned the right to mold the party and choose its leaders.”

But he added that “there is nothing less important to the Israeli public these days than party politics. The state is collapsing beneath the weight of the coronavirus crisis, the public is in distress. The last thing it wants is to see is politicians busy politicking.”

He said that lawmakers Orna Barbivai and Yoav Segalovitz have been managing the process of how to democratize the party, and that they have ruled out the option of open primaries. Lapid noted that holding these elections would mean bringing in lobbyists and other figures. "All of this is not and will not be part of our DNA. All of this has destroyed other parties," he said. "That proposal has been rejected.”

Lapid added, “Any party member who would like to challenge me is welcome to do so, including Ofer, of course, who is a worthy challenger. I imagine he wouldn’t be the only one.”

Shelah announced last week that he had asked Lapid to hold a primary contest for the Yesh Atid leadership, and that he intends to challenge him. “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.”

He added, "When Yesh Atid was founded, it was determined that such an election would be held before the 21st Knesset," which was sworn in in April 2019. "Since then the date has been moved twice, by secret measures, without the participation of the party’s MKs or activists,” Shelah wrote on Facebook. “In the meantime, eight years and nearly five Knesset sessions have passed. Yesh Atid is now a mature and strong party, with an excellent group of people. The time has come to carry out what we have promised.”

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