Lapid's Estranged Right-hand Man Quits Yesh Atid, Forms New Party Ahead of Election

Chaim Levinson
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Ofer Shelah during an anti-Netanyahu protest in front of the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 19, 2020.
Ofer Shelah during an anti-Netanyahu protest in front of the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 19, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chaim Levinson

Lawmaker Ofer Shelah announced on Thursday he is leaving Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, which he helped form, to start a new one which will run in Israel's upcoming election in March.

About two months ago, Shelah declared that he had asked Lapid to hold primaries for the party leadership, and stated that he intended to run in them.

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"When Yesh Atid was established, it was determined that such elections would be held before the 21st Knesset. Since then, the date has been moved twice – in secret moves, without the participation of the party's lawmakers or its activists," Shelah wrote on Facebook.

"In the meantime, eight years have passed and a little more than five Knessets. Yesh Atid is today a mature and strong movement, with an excellent group of people. It is time to live up to what we promised," he added.

"The sad story of Kahol Lavan teaches us that 'just not Bibi' is not enough" to replace Prime Minister Netanyahu. I told Lapid that without a profound change Yesh Atid cannot be an alternative. Because of the need to replace Netanyahu, center-left voters are flocking to those who drafted the nation-state law. The next government must represent a clear path and a worldview that so many Israelis share. Because of that, I have to leave Yesh Atid. "

Shelah called on anyone "who claims to renew the face of the center-left, to join me and accept the guidelines I lay before the public today," and encouraged cooperation between the ultra-Orthodox and the center-left bloc. He also said he would agree to be a partner in any government that would bring an end to Netanyahu's rule.

Lapid on his part wished Shelah good luck with his new party and thanked him for his nine years of cooperation. 

Shelah has been friends with Lapid for many years, and the two co-founded Yesh Atid in 2012. He served as Lapid's political right-hand man, and concocted various party moves over the years.

In 2015, with the departure of Shai Piron, Shelah became number 2 in the party and pushed Yesh Atid toward a more left-wing line, including collaboration with the joint list. He was revolted by the connection with Kahol Lavan and worked to dismantle it.

In September, Shelah said he wanted to lead the center-left bloc in the next election. "I went to Yesh Atid because I believed that the governmental alternative should grow out of it. At the moment, it cannot grow out of it," he said in an interview with News 13. He added that "Lapid founded this party but it is not registered in the registry under his name or anyone else’s name."

In addition, in an interview with News 12, Shelah said that he believes he can be prime minister, and that even if he loses the bid for party leadership, he will remain in the party.

In response, Lapid said that a primary for the party’s leadership would not be held this year. "There will be a confrontation, I welcome it. The time has come, but we will do it without pressure," Lapid said, clarifying: "No one gives me ultimatums." In an interview at the time Lapid added that Shelah could lead the party, and that he is "a talented man with values."

Shelah told Haaretz that he hasn't spoken to Lapid since the request to challenge him in primaries. 

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