Israel Election: Whatever Happens, Yair Lapid Has Already Lost

Nave Dromi
Nave Dromi
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Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid on Election Day.
Nave Dromi
Nave Dromi

For some reason, a cliché has taken hold during this election campaign about Yair Lapid keeping quiet. He doesn’t show up in television studios, has rarely given interviews on the radio or in the press, and is generally maintaining “silence.” This is odd, since the Yesh Atid chairman is active on social media, posting and responding and keeping a presence there. Two weeks ago, he wrote an op-ed in this newspaper and on Saturday he spoke at a press conference. He hasn’t exactly kept mum.

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It is possible to say that he’s maintaining a “strategic silence,” which is perhaps more accurate, but there’s nothing particularly surprising about that. After getting burned before when he didn’t hold back, this time he’s deliberately playing it cool. He knows that no one ever regretted something he didn’t say. And, seeking position himself as the head of the “bloc for change” – the new name for the leftist grouping that until recently was the “anyone but Bibi” camp (and before that, the “peace camp”) – he understands that the more cautious he is about what he says, the less the chance that voters will flee from him to Labor, Meretz or Kahol Lavan.

Silence is quite fitting for someone who has no clear doctrine and zigzags ideologically. It allows people from different backgrounds to find a political haven in him. Centrist Zionists can recall the times when Lapid posed for photographs with organizations of Israel Defense Forces reservists against the Breaking the Silence NGO; leftists can relate to a Lapid who considers the Joint List a legitimate potential coalition partner. There’s Lapid the socialist, Lapid the capitalist – a Lapid for everyone.

More than anything, Lapid’s silence is about avoiding the need to assert a firm position. That sets it apart from the legendary “silence” of Benny Gantz, back when he still attracted interest and had an aura of mystery about him. With Gantz, keeping silent was a “pioneering” move. The fact that he had not previously been part of the political world, and that most people didn’t know what his positions were, only added to the power of his silence. But Lapid has been on the playing field long enough for us not to be too impressed by the intentional anemia that’s befallen him.

Lapid’s strategy needs to be understood in the context of the available electorate he is hoping to appeal to. This electorate, the “anyone but Bibi” camp, is confused. It finds itself pulled toward clear right-wing candidates (Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar) and clear left-wing parties (Meretz, Joint List). Lapid looks at this jumbled picture and comes to an obvious conclusion: There is no way to say anything of ideological substance without getting into trouble with one side or the other. So better not to say anything.

One wonders, though, if Lapid realizes that the total abandonment of values constitutes Benjamin Netanyahu’s biggest victory over him.

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