Last week there was a certain change in the campaign messaging of Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Quietly and politely, he returned to his “Zoabis” approach against the Joint List. It began at a Yesh Atid meeting last Wednesday, where he called for establishing “a broad and stable national government – without the extremists.” So far, par for the course. Everyone can define “extremists” as they please. To many in the camp Lapid seeks to lead, the center-left, that’s Itamar Ben Gvir. But to many in the bloc that he’s winking at, the center-right, the “extremists” are actually leftists and Arabs.
The second part of the comparison is the return to Lapid’s old positions, which he seemed to have left behind when, in the more recent election rounds, he did not disqualify the Joint List outright because he understood that without its votes he could not get a mandate to form a government, nor pass a budget. This Lapid didn’t rule out cooperation with any party.
To clarify that his position has changed, his party told Channel 12’s Daphna Liel that by ”extremists,” he indeed meant Itamar Ben Gvir on one hand and the Joint List on the other. This message was repeated Thursday before the “Idea” organization, in a cliché-laden speech that was the essence of Lapidism – dividing everything into two, against “extremists on both sides” and in favor of “togetherness.”
In praise of the middle that replicates consensus rather than values, Lapid once again made it clear that his mission is to “unite society” against “the most extreme voices and forces within it.” Among the examples he gave for his dramatic revelation that “life is complicated,” he said, “Twenty percent of the population are Arabs and we can and should give them civil equality,” but “on the other hand, we won’t give them national equality, because this is the only state Jews have.” The solution? “We sat down and made a five-year plan for Arab society. We created a team fighting crime.”
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Lapid enthusiastically adopts the right-wing ideology which holds that the solution to Jewish-Arab relations within the state is budgetary equality for the Arab population – and repression of its ideological position. This is the same approach employed by Benjamin Netanyahu in his guise as “Abu Yair.” In fact, it’s the same concept one can hear from the new Itamar Ben Gvir, the one opposed to “death to the Arabs.” As long as the Arabs have no political opinion, we have no problem with them.
Lapid knows that the national aspirations in question are a recognition of the Palestinian nation, rather than the establishment of “a state of all its citizens.” But this, as he likes to say, is probably too complicated.
It’s interesting to note that in 2013, after Lapid said he wouldn’t establish a blocking alliance “with the Zoabis,” he called Ahmad Tibi to explain that he didn’t mean the Arab parties, only MK Haneen Zoabi. The Lapid of 2022 is saying the opposite: The entire Joint List is disqualified. The rhetoric has improved, but the ideology has become even more virulent. For today’s Lapid, the entire Joint List is beyond the pale, due to supposedly “extremist” positions that are tantamount in his eyes to those of Ben Gvir. (Which is to say, opposing the occupation is the same as supporting the occupation, same-same, one extreme and another.)
The reason for this change is clear: He is drawn in by Netanyahu’s racist campaign, and is trying to fight for the votes of the center-right against the Benny Gantz-Gideon Sa’ar union. And indeed, Lapid has cause for concern. Both he and Gantz are “national centrists” – but at least Gantz can bring some Haredim with him.