Yair Lapid's Campaign to Focus on Netanyahu's COVID Failures Without Targeting His Haredi Partners

With new polls showing 78 percent of center-left voters would prefer a coalition without ultra-Orthodox parties, Lapid is seeking to exploit his base's frustrations, yet will steer clear of running an anti-Haredi campaign

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Yair Lapid addressing the Knesset Plenum, May 2020.
Yair Lapid addressing the Knesset Plenum, May 2020. Credit: Adina Walman / Knesset Spokesperson
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Opposition leader Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party is expected to focus its election campaign on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lenient enforcement of the coronavirus restrictions in the ultra-Orthodox community and portray it as a weakness, according to party sources.

However, the campaign will not directly target the Haredis, leaving open the possibility of forming a coalition with them.

Why Bibi won't stand up to ultra-Orthodox COVID scofflaws: LISTEN

A source in Yesh Atid told Haaretz that party will highlight Netanyahu's management of the coronavirus crisis and his lenient treatment of the ultra-Orthodox community in particular. According to the source, internal evaluations by the party showed that dealing with Netanyahu’s failures in coping with the pandemic could strengthen support for party leader Yair Lapid and distance voters from Netanyahu.

Scenes from Bnei Brak where violent protests against police enforcement erupted, January 24, 2021. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The party has found that center-left voters are increasingly frustrated with the Haredim due to the mass violations of the coronavirus restrictions. A Channel 12 News poll released Tuesday that 78 percent of center-left voters would prefer that the next governing coalition not include Haredi parties.

However, Yesh Atid has decided not to launch an anti-Haredi campaign of the sort that in the past has generated fierce animosity between Lapid and ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas.

Although UTJ still doesn't consider Lapid a coalition partner, Yesh Atid sources say that behind the scenes the parties managed to cooperate on various issues in the outgoing Knesset.

Yesh Atid members are assuming that the party will not team up with another party ahead of the March 23 election. Surveys conducted by the party have shown that any such union would not create “a whole greater than the sum of its parts,” and will not make attract more voters.

The sources predict that three center-left parties will run in the election – Yesh Atid a bit to the right, Meretz on the left and a possible link-up between Labor and Ron Huldai’s new party in the center. Yesh Atid is willing to help facilitate that union and hopes that new Labor chief Merav Michaeli will head it, since surveys show that a merged entity would be more likely to attract votes with her at the helm.

“Both Michaeli and Huldai are at risk of not crossing the electoral threshold,” said a Yesh Atid source, who assessed that a union between the two lists would assure their entrance into the next Knesset. Yesh Atid believes that all the other small parties – Ofer Shelah’s Tnufa, Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem and Yaron Zelekha’s Economic Party will have to merge with these two parties to avoid having center-left votes wasted on slates that won’t get into the Knesset.

Michaeli spoke with Huldai after she won the Labor party leadership contest and the two agreed to discuss a possible union. Labor, however, will be holding a primary for its electoral slate on Sunday, a move that could improve its position in the polls and influence the negotiations with Huldai.

Huldai on Tuesday expressed confidence that if his party runs with Labor he would head the slate, and stressed that he would not drop out of the race because of discouraging poll results.

Decisions on merging slates must be made by next Thursday, the last day to submit the party lists for the election.

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