Maybe Yair Lapid Will Surprise Us

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Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is an enigma. A convenient punching bag for the disgruntled, he hasn't notched up a significant public achievement since he came into the world 50 years ago. On the other hand, he's a very successful person who's now Israel’s finance minister.

How can we explain this paradox? I may have a clue. His story is linked to an embarrassing confession I have to make: I've started thinking that maybe, after all, Lapid might surprise us.

Of course, Lapid realizes that if he goes along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-capitalist policies, his only achievement will be to become even more important and affluent than he already is. But if he can end homelessness in Israel and ensure that all children, from all strata of society, get an equal chance to get a decent education, he'll go down in history as one of Israel's great leaders.

That's what I fantasized about, until I remembered that there are no signs Lapid will move in that direction. In fact, most of his actions since taking office – his tale of the unfortunate Riki Cohen, his appointment of ultra-liberal Yael Andorn as his ministry's director general, his planned increase or non-increase of university tuition fees – seem to point in the opposite direction. Regarding his opposition to the sale of Israel Chemicals to a foreign company, we'll have to wait and see if this statement goes beyond an interesting press release.

In fact, not only is there no real basis for my hopes, there's no reason why people whose views are diametrically opposed to mine shouldn't pin their hopes on Lapid. They think, for example, that he can realize right here in Israel Margaret Thatcher's vision of eliminating any chance of an independent Palestinian state. How is it possible that both rightists and leftists could have the illusion that Lapid will fulfill their dreams?

Maybe the answer can be found in the feeling that all of us seem to have – that we know Lapid very well. After all, we used to read (at least some of us did) his newspaper articles, we saw him on his television talk show, and now he's even talking to us via Facebook. Maybe there's another force at work here: He has never presented a detailed political agenda. Do all these factors turn him into an empty vessel that people can simply fill with whatever they want?

The "Zionist left" might be persuaded that he's “one of us.” After all, he's a journalist who grew up in north Tel Aviv, and it's safe to assume that many of his friends are leftists. The rightist camp can claim him as right-winger Naftali Bennett’s brother or as Netanyahu’s first cousin. Lapid looks like a nice Jewish boy who would never dream of surrendering territory to the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement.

Only the finance minister himself knows the answer to the question: Who are you (really), Mr. Lapid? One could argue that there's arrogance in describing Lapid as an empty vessel that people can fill with whatever they want. But it's legitimate to ask how someone who has reached such a lofty public office can remain a mystery.

So far, at least, even his many embarrassing faux pas in his public statements haven't ruined his image in the eyes of his followers. One could, for example, contrast Lapid with MK Amir Peretz (Hatnuah), who became a laughingstock when, as defense minister, a photographer caught him looking through binoculars with the caps still on. Nobody has forgotten Peretz’s ridiculous blunder and probably never will.

Is Lapid’s image more suited to the image of the super-achiever as he's perceived by Israeli society? Or is he perhaps not such a serious threat to the old and evil socioeconomic order that many people would dearly love to preserve?

Then again, despite everything, maybe he'll surprise us?

Finance Minister Yair LapidCredit: Michal Fattal

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