Why the Brits Don’t Have a Yair Lapid

The British have realized that governments are transient. In Israel, even leaders who talk foolishness believe that they are Churchill.

Lapid in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2014.
Tomer Appelbaum

After I was elected two weeks ago in London to the executive board of the New Israel Fund, my face paled and I asked whether I had to wear an identifying tag from now on. In light of my distress, another board member explained to me considerately that the New Israel Fund is not in the identifying-tag-wearing category. Meanwhile, a worried friend called me from Israel and excoriated me. What have you got to do with the New Israel Fund, under fire from the right, he asked. He reminded me of the incitement against the NIF and against Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

That’s the way I was made, I answered him, to swim against the tide; I was born to a people that swims against the tide, to an uprooted family that swims against the tide. I write in a newspaper that swims against the tide. 'Do you expect that one day you’ll be the tide?' my disappointed friend asked derisively. I told him not to worry. If that day comes, I’ll find myself another tide to swim against.

But why deal with small matters, I thought. After all, I’m in London, capital of the empire that ruled the world for hundreds of years. This is an opportunity to discover, in the few days I’m here, the secret of the continuity of British rule. I could also find out how the British were left undamaged psychologically after the curtain went down.

My extensive investigations led me to the conclusion that the answer is in their ability to choose one way, and alongside it, its alternative as well. Hardly had the referendum ended, with its sensational result – to leave the European Union – and the British were already signaling that the last word had not yet been said. And the leaders of the Brexit movement themselves, one by one, were abandoning the race for prime minister.

There you have it, British cynicism at its best: Even when they speak with pathos, and the situation requires all imaginable seriousness, they make you feel like it’s a game and they really didn’t mean it.

Dr. Yossi Amitay mentioned in one of his lectures that according to a certain philosopher, if the world’s leaders took their idealism all the way, the world would be destroyed. From this thought he arrived at an impressive realization: Lack of continuity allows space for the world to exist. Lack of continuity, among other things, requires a somewhat cynical attitude to the ideology you hold. Five percent cynicism is enough to create an escape hatch. People who hold onto their ideology at any price are fixed in a destructive mode.

The British have apparently realized that governments are transient. In Israel, even leaders who talk foolishness believe that they are the giants of their generation. I looked all over London and I didn’t find even one Yair Lapid. The vacuous Lapid takes himself more seriously than even the legendary Churchill. And let’s not forget that although Churchill never supported zero-VAT for apartment buyers and although his name is associated with the most important victory in human history, he was defeated in elections only a few months after the Nazis’ surrender. In this country, the zero-proposing man is worth more than 20 Knesset seats, according to the polls.

A British imperial official understood the limits of government. Even the letters he sent to the locals, under his rule, he signed with the words “Your faithful servant.” Thus it is hard to imagine that a British leader, even at the height of the days of glory, would say that “all of Africa is excited” about his arrival. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose empire is more or less the size of the Ramat Negev Regional Council, said that very thing.

The day after the sun set on the empire, the British had already begin to plan their new lives. Here, however, people are still mourning the evacuation of the settlements in Gaza 11 years ago; a single rock becomes, in all seriousness, the “rock of our existence”; and rocky soil is deemed, without a whit of cynicism, “the land of our fathers.” As if only Jews have fathers and others popped out of the wall. How can compromise be reached with such a halo of sanctity surrounding us?