Yair Lapid’s Revolution: We All Live in Micah Goodman’s World

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Sunday.Credit: Ronen Zvulun /AP
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

As soon as Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid concluded their joint statement announcing the end of their government, a wave of nostalgia hit center-left voters. They discovered the prime minister: his likability, his tired smile – removed any trace of anger they felt over his past, and their hearts brimmed with gratitude. The man who will replace him in the caretaker government also melted their hearts as he ended his words with a brief, slightly bashful declaration of love. The camaraderie the two displayed is so rare in Israeli politics that for a moment one could imagine that the late composer Sasha Argov and the late poet Haim Gouri had reunited at the scene to write a new version of “Shir Hare’ut,” best known for being Yitzhak Rabin’s favorite song.

Israel heads to fifth election, and its democracy is on the line

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Only the stoniest of hearts could have been left unmoved by this moment. “Dyed in the wool” leftists, by their own admission, filled social media feeds with declarations of love and announced that this time, they would vote for Lapid’s Yesh Atid party as a symbol of respect for refusing to join a Netanyahu government, for letting Bennett go first in their rotation of the premiership, and for doing everything possible to establish this government. Lapid, it has become popular to say, has matured.

These good people, these die-hard leftists, who only a few years ago had only contempt for Lapid, are now willing to express their thanks for one main reason: Lapid saved Israeli democracy and will do so again. Democracy is so important to them that they manage to ignore salient examples of its absence. For example, Benjamin Netanyahu can only envy the Yesh Atid party machine, which includes an obedient and loyal base and a personality cult in which no one aspires to replace the leader.

For a decade now Lapid has led a party that holds no primaries, whose lawmakers and officials owe their careers to him. He blithely parted ways from his good friend Ofer Shelah when the latter demanded an internal election for party leader. When Lapid finally agreed, no one dared challenge him, for fear of ending up as a basketball analyst.

Lapid’s supporters seemed unbothered by the fact that on the same day as the joint statement, their savior of democracy thwarted the passage of a bill that would compel elected officials to maintain financial transparency. Nor were they perturbed by the fact that he and Bennett decided to dissolve the Knesset and suspend government operations and the handling of urgent economic issues in order to save the settlement enterprise. (Bennett: “I realized that with the expiry of the law regulating the legal status of Israelis in Judea and Samaria, the state would enter a state of chaos; I couldn’t allow that to happen.”)

To them, this was but one more example of the generosity with which the two sacrifice themselves on the altar of the state’s welfare. Democracy is very dear to the hearts of these leftists, so long as it applies only to Jews. Apartheid beyond the 1967 borders, with daily settler violence as a bonus? Economic violence and a growing disparity between those whose parents can bequeath them real estate and those who can only bequeath a third generation of poverty? They can definitely live with a right-wing leader like Bennett or a neoliberal prime minister like Lapid.

Lapid’s revolution has been achieved; we’re all living in the intellectual universe of his friend, the author Micah Goodman. As the saying goes, tepid waters run deep. Die-hard leftists will vote for Yesh Atid en masse, effacing the smaller left-wing parties (which Yesh Atid made small), parties that are democratic, voting for their leaders through primaries.

Why will they do this? Because Bibi is threatening our democracy. Let there be no mistake – Netanyahu is indeed dangerous. He is a toxic campaigner, and I identify with the yearning to change the political culture he and his family have instilled here. But at least let’s admit that since his first day in politics, Lapid has always united his voters around one hatred or another: Now the ultra-Orthodox, now the Arabs, or human-rights organizations, and now it’s the forces of darkness?

I’m not asking you not to do everything you can to thwart Netanyahu’s return to power, but is it possible to do it with a little more integrity and a little less self-deception?

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