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Lapid, Would You Stop Being So Scared of Netanyahu?

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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An election campaign billboard for Likud showing a portrait of its leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, in Ramat Gan, last year.
An election campaign billboard for Likud showing a portrait of its leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, in Ramat Gan, last year.Credit: Oded Balilty /AP
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

Can the coming election be won by Yair Lapid and the “bloc of change?” There is a chance of this happening. The outgoing government did not complete its term and the person leading it withdrew from politics, but there are many people who are not ready to return to a reality of boycotts and ostracism, and to a Knesset plenum that’s become a platform for delusional and noisy bashes. These people yearn for some sanity.

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This large segment of the public wants a government that will bring stability and show some responsibility, while functioning smoothly. It knows that Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in a functioning government but in a puppet show, operated by his close associates, that presents a mendacious view of the world.

But when right-wing strategic adviser Israel Bachar (who managed the Likud campaign in 2009 and the Kahol Lavan campaign in the last three elections) repeatedly said on Friday night’s main TV news show that he wants the public to know that Lapid cannot form a government, I agreed with his statement, despite my reservations about the tone in which this was said. This is due to the fact that after it seemed that Lapid was reading the situation correctly for a short while, his advisers have returned him to his errant path, with his claim that he would not sit in a government with “extremists.”

The election campaign still has a long and tortuous path ahead of it, but this is a bad start. Lapid must announce that no party from the center to the left is disqualified in his view. It’s true that Netanyahu will exploit this in order to present Lapid as a “collaborator” of people who support “terrorists,” but if Lapid thinks that this is sufficient reason to disqualify “extremists,” namely the [Arab] Joint List, all he is projecting is weakness.

The racists hate every Arab and any party that disputes Netanyahu’s supremacy. They and their ilk are not Lapid’s target audience. He must shake off Netanyahu’s shadow, his intimidation and incitement. Lapid must be a groundbreaking leader determining the path of the entire bloc. The potential bloc that doesn’t want Bibi-ism has a vital interest in increasing the turnout of his supporters in general, and the turnout of Arab voters in particular. This is worth absorbing the invective of all the right-wing mouthpieces.

Lapid has to internalize the fact that Netanyahu has no rabbits left in his hat. I’m not talking about scandals he will try to pin on his rivals. I’m talking about the fact that the Likud primaries expose the naked reality: The party is a collection of people, some of whom you’ll see for the last time at the end of these primaries. All the usual assault dogs will go into media hibernation until November 1, since Netanyahu wants to avoid encounters between those remaining voters who still value statesman-like conduct and the people driving them away.

He, Netanyahu, can’t make Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir go away, since he has grown independently, thanks to the atmosphere of hatred and racism Netanyahu, along with others, has fomented. Netanyahu knows that Ben-Gvir can be a tie-breaker in the other direction: his deterrent power is at least equivalent to his electoral appeal. This is why Ben-Gvir himself is being briefed. He is no longer the ward of racist right-wing La Familia soccer supporters or of Bentzi Gopstein, the anti-assimilation activist. He is now being presented as a youth who has matured and sobered up. He doesn’t hate Arabs like Meir Kahane did, he only detests terrorists. He does rail against the justice system, but in this he is no different than any other Likud darling.

Lapid has to remember that the goal is not to allow Netanyahu and Miri Regev to return to power along with Ben-Gvir, a man who directly threatened Yitzhak Rabin just before he was assassinated. Anything that contributes to this objective is legitimate. He must not fall into the trap laid by Netanyahu.

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