Until now Yair Lapid has been playing it almost perfectly. “We’ll look into it,” he says. “Ofer Shelah is wonderful, talented, popular in my house.” “If he’s elected, I have no problem serving under him.” One can’t help but be impressed by Lapid’s recovery and his political cunning – okay, his pretending.
He heard about Shelah’s bid for leadership of Yesh Atid on Monday, reacted very angrily, and on Wednesday he’s already relaxed and conciliatory. The objective is clear: To kill the idea softly. We’ll form a team, we’ll start a process, it will take a few months, meanwhile Shelah will dry up in a kind of internal political desert. If he stays, he’ll wither away on his own. If he leaves, the matter is finished.
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First of all, full disclosure. Prof. Dan Ariely discovered in his research that people who engage in full disclosure permit themselves to adopt a far more biased attitude towards their friends. So that now, after saying that Shelah is a friend of mine, I can say what I’ve really been thinking (in a biased way, probably) since he came under Lapid’s wing: His place in Israeli politics is in front of Lapid, not vice versa.
Lapid and Shelah have succeeded in the past eight years in concealing all the tension between them, which was considerable. In public they seemed almost like a single person. Some claimed that everything Lapid does, Shelah “the brain” plans. Others denigrated Shelah and said that he is serving Lapid. Few knew that from the first moment, Lapid removed Shelah from his close circle of advisers, with the excuse that it’s a team without politicians.
Shelah didn’t know about the alliance Lapid forged with Naftali Bennett even before the 2013 election. When he found out, he thought it was a terrible mistake. He wasn’t familiar with the principle that guided Lapid’s participation in that coalition: a government without Haredim.
Lapid did not appoint his friend-partner as a minister after the election. After the 2015 election Lapid decided to move rightward. Shelah thought it a terrible mistake, not smart and not effective, and still he was forced to swallow a party chairman who swears allegiance to united Jerusalem and attacks human rights organizations.
In that sense, the real question that should be asked is not why now, or all the nonsense about the over-60 crisis. The question is: Why only now?
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As far as Lapid is concerned, Shelah’s decision is the greatest blow imaginable. Although Shelah was very careful not to provide sound bites for future Likud broadcasts, it’s clear that what he did immediately turned into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s negative campaign against Lapid. If your good friend, who has known you for 30 years, says that you can’t and you aren’t capable, what do you expect from the Israeli public?
Lapid has exiled members of Yesh Atid to the darkness for far lesser sins. The story of lawmaker Adi Kol reverberated widely, but it is only one expression, and not the most extreme one, of Lapid’s dictatorship, in which Shelah was an important component. There is almost no Knesset member or minister who departed or was dismissed from Yesh Atid who didn’t come to know the phenomenon. Anyone who even voiced the idea of internal elections became persona non grata (except, of course, for MK Elazar Stern).
We can only imagine what Lapid really thinks of Shelah and about the future of this friendship. The fact is that Shelah’s step has only postponed the end. The chances of an internal election in Yesh Atid and Shelah winning it are almost nil. Yesh Atid has no orderly traditions or rules of the game. The person who will design them, if he so desires, is Lapid.
Shelah has no future in Yesh Atid (Hebrew for “There is a future”). In the end he will have no choice but to give up his Knesset seat and the important post of State Control Committee chairman, and try to do what he should have done a long time ago. Lead an Israeli left-wing party.