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Israel Needs a Leader, Not a Promoter

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem in May.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem in May.Credit: POOL/ REUTERS
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

A fifth election campaign in three years is, of course, a governmental and democratic disaster, no use belaboring the point. The reason behind this reoccurrence is deeply rooted. A higher power is not to blame; elections don't just happen out of nowhere. Israelis, having been hurled once again into this smoldering cauldron, must understand what’s at stake.

This country, polarized and divided, is in the midst of an existential war of attrition: Israel vs. Bibistan. This is but another round. In this sort of war, each side fights with all its might, and every round can be the last. It is not a battle for the faint-hearted, and you can't tire midway and wave a white flag.

On Tuesday, Haaretz Editor-in-chief Aluf Benn defined the upcoming election as “an unprecedented face-off between the two best promoters who ever lived in this country. … They both excel at telling a story.” I understand the attraction of this portrayal, but I suggest that it be rejected: It mostly serves the Bibi-ist camp, which is making a tremendous effort to portray Yair Lapid as a vapid TV model, a Ken doll reading off a teleprompter, a featherweight.

Channel 12’s Amit Segal already mumbled something this week about the (supposedly) unprecedented speed in which Lapid has leaped from TV presenter to the premier’s seat. In reality, that’s fake news, propaganda under the guise of analysis. Lapid entered politics 10 years ago and managed to serve as finance and foreign minister, opposition leader and alternate prime minister. There is no one in the current political arena more fit to lead the struggle for democracy and statesmanship, and face off against the alliance of Bibi-ists, Kahanists, Haredim and nationalist Haredim.

Enough with this promoter business. A promoter gets a lot of money to sell goods to the public by dint of being famous, with no true affiliation with the product. Leo Messi doesn’t really eat Tapuchips, Rotem Sela does not have a deep emotional connection with Discount Bank. But, Lapid’s goods are real. He believes in Israeliness with all his heart, and doesn’t tire of trying to articulate it, to make it ever more precise and comprehensive. It is his life’s work, starting from the heyday of his journalistic career. For years, this was an easy joke at his expense, due to the key question he coined and asked all the guests of his talk show host: “What is the most 'Israeli' thing to you?” Add to that his fondness for kitsch, a predilection for the saccharine, and a stubborn striving for consensus. Lapid is an optimistic man. This is of course reflected in the name of the party he started from scratch: Yesh Atid – “There Is a Future.” He is genuinely convinced this place has a future.

Lapid can tell a story, but it won’t end with scaring us about Ben-Gvir and Smotrich; he’s not built to stay with the negative. And the truth is, the anyone-but-Bibi camp has a positive story to tell. Leading the country through a compromise coalition of sane and decent Israelis is a hell of a story. So is saving Israeli democracy and protecting the institutions of law and order.

The government established a year ago was a political miracle. Sitting in it, side by side like the lion and the lamb, were Lieberman and Michaeli, Hendel and Abbas, Sa’ar and Horowitz. It came into being only thanks to Lapid. He gave Bennett the first go at the premiership, just as he had nobly stepped aside for neophyte Benny Gantz, hitching the party he built to the man’s star. In his steadfast refusal to join forces with the leader-turned-defendant, even after the betrayal of the craven military chiefs, he saved the democratic camp from oblivion. He deserves a medal, and he deserves credit.

Lapid has been wrong in the past, but that works in our favor: He will not repeat his foolishness. He may be a mensch, but he’s not a sucker. Or a promoter. He’s a leader, and he can win.

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