The Dark Underside of Yosef Lapid

Lapid's supporters want to be dark nationalists but give the impression of being enlightened; to be Avigdor Lieberman but look like Yossi Sarid. It turns out that the lowest common denominator of the majority who define themselves as enlightenedis the hatred of Haredim (ultra-Orthodox).

The success that is being predicted for the Shinui party in next month's elections says more about the voters than about Yosef Lapid's solo party. Lapid's supporters want to be dark nationalists but give the impression of being enlightened; to be Avigdor Lieberman but look like Yossi Sarid. It turns out that the lowest common denominator of the majority of Israelis who define themselves as enlightened, civil, educated and non-extremist continues to be hatred of Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), despite everything else that is happening all around us.

Moreover, this is apparently the only issue around which it's possible to build a relatively broad party. Not the occupation and its wrongs, not the huge social gaps and not our near-military regime - it's only hatred of Haredim that induces the center of the political map to take a trenchant position.

Like Green Leaf, another escapist party - and the support it is receiving at a time like this also raises some tough questions about what is preoccupying Israeli society - the success of Shinui says something deep and disturbing about what is of interest to a large segment of the Israeli public. It is far more important for them that the "Eichlers" - in Lapid's crude usage, referring to a well-known Haredi media personality - serve in the army under any circumstances, than to ask what our boys are doing in the alleys of Hebron and the outskirts of Rafah. (Lapid told Ha'aretz Magazine last week that his grandson will have to supply the livelihood of "at least 70 little Eichlers." It's not difficult to imagine what the reaction would be if a European politician were to express himself in similar terms and what Lapid, the prime alarmist about anti-Semitism, would say about it.)

Israeli society hates the Haredim with a passion, even though they have done it relatively little harm. Yet when it comes to the settlers, who are a far more power-wielding, violent, destructive and extortionist minority group than the Haredim and have done immeasurably more harm, having dictated Israel's policy agenda for the past 30 years, hardly anyone in the political center of Shinui has anything to say.

But there is more to it than that. True, a study published in the periodical Panim showed that about 15 percent of Shinui voters would cast their ballot for the ultra-nationalist Kach party if it were running, but we can take it that the majority of Shinui's voters define themselves as people of the center, enlightened in their own eyes. In fact, they are supporting a right-wing nationalist party.

Lapid's love of chess and his civilized manner have charmed these people. Unbelievably, quite a few of them were even undecided, and are still undecided, about whether to vote Shinui or Meretz. But now the veil has been lifted. After Shinui kept its political views vague for years and presented itself as a center party, not left or right, only against Haredim, its true right-wing face has now been revealed.

Lapid, who describes his party as "democratic, liberal and European," does in fact head a party that resembles some European parties, but not the kind he has in mind. His party resembles the far-right, nationalist, xenophobic parties that many Israelis like Lapid constantly rail against.

Since becoming a politician, Lapid has been able to play down his extreme political and social views, and his fulminating against the Haredim blurs all else. Forgotten is his proposal to blow up a booby-trapped car in the heart of Palestinian cities and forgotten is the comparison he drew between the parents of Udi Adiv (a young kibbutz member who was jailed for spying for Syria) and the parents of Adolf Eichmann. Also forgotten are his sharp attacks against some homosexuals ("They shove their genitals under the nose of the helpless citizen"), the greens ("indefatigable naggers"), the new historians ("they bury their heads in crap") and the female Knesset members who try to help battered women ("they're irritating").

People have forgotten that Lapid was the darkest director-general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, shutting up people and turning off microphones (every interview with a Palestinian needed his authorization) and they have forgotten his statement that "it's not such a big tragedy" if we have to live by our swords for a few more generations. In Ari Shavit's piece in Ha'aretz Magazine, a friend of Lapid termed him a "racist in good faith." This is where Lapid embodies the wishes of his supporters: both enlightened in their own eyes and dark nationalists inside - racists in good faith.

And he is not alone. Here, for example, is what No. 8 on Shinui's list, Mali Polishuk, who according to the current polls is certain to enter the Knesset next Janaury 28, had to say in an interview published last week in a local paper, Tzomet Hasharon: She can't bear these "slant-eyed types, nu, what are they, the Filipinos." She can't bear the unemployed and doesn't understand why "foreign workers put my vegetables into the shopping bag when I buy in a store. Can't that [unemployed Israeli] woman put a bag of vegetables in my car? Can't she carry the bag of bananas I bought?" Lapid would put it more elegantly, of course.

At the end of the week Lapid declared that his party will not be part of a government of Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties. The right-wing cat again jumped out of the bag: Lapid did not say the same about a right-wing government. He prefers the National Union's Avigdor Lieberman to Amram Mitzna and Yossi Sarid. It's important for Lapid's electorate to be aware of this. Then they can vote Shinui and express their admiration for Lapid. What's no longer viable is to call yourself an enlightened centrist and then vote Shinui. That is intolerable self-deception.