Lapid’s political crack-up
Three days after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and leader of the Yesh Atid party and now former finance minister Yair Lapid failed to resolve their differences and so thrust Israel into an electoral season less than two years after the last election, the Left’s narrative is already clear. Netanyahu has forced unnecessary, costly elections on the country. He did so because his reactionary nature, overweening ego and thin skin made it impossible for him to handle a true reformer like Lapid, who was trying to push the country forward.
The actual situation is quite different. These elections are necessary. The up to NIS 1.2 billion that taxpayers will have to pay to finance the vote scheduled for March 17 is money well spent. And if the current polls are even close to what the election results will be three months from now, then the public understands that they are necessary and intends to elect a government that will serve it better than the one that just dissolved.
To be sure, Netanyahu is the one who decided to call elections. But the person responsible for making it impossible for the existing government to function is Lapid. Over the past few months Lapid has had the political equivalent of a nervous breakdown.
In 2013, Lapid ran as a centrist. The television celebrity’s new party, Yesh Atid, presented itself as the voice of the hard-working middle class whose members love this country and are tired of electing governments that trample their economic interests and take them for granted in favor of special interests, especially the haredim.
In other words, Lapid ran as his father’s son.
The late Yosef “Tommy” Lapid’s Shinui party also claimed to be the voice of the middle class and the ideological Center, fighting the special interests, especially the haredim.
But as economic commentator Rotem Sella explained Thursday on the NRG website, aside from boycotting the haredim, Lapid Jr. did not follow in his father’s footsteps after taking office.
Whereas Shinui was a liberal free market party that supported then-finance minister Netanyahu’s reforms that transformed Israel’s sclerotic, socialist economy into a rapidly growing free market, Lapid and his ministers from Yesh Atid exchanged their capitalist platform for socialist policies immediately upon taking office. In so doing they put Israel on a path to recession and social upheaval.
As Sella noted, among other things, shortly after taking office Lapid capitulated to the thuggish Histadrut labor federation and agreed not to touch the inflated salaries of state employees – paid for by the middle class taxpayers who voted for him.
His health minister, Yael German, took steps to wipe out private medical services through draconian taxation and paralyzing regulation of private medical services. Her actions didn’t rescue the bankrupt public health system. They merely served to deny citizens the right to pay for better healthcare and to deny doctors the opportunity to make a living even remotely commensurate with the value of their skills.
In recent months, Lapid’s signature policies were his decision to expand the deficit in order to increase welfare spending and his draft bill to cancel VAT for select first-time home purchasers.
The former policy has already damaged Israel’s international credit rating. The latter policy has been criticized across the board by economists as a populist move that will raise housing prices and waste NIS 3b. in taxpayer money – that is, well more than the cost of the elections.
Lapid’s refusal to reconsider his policies despite their self-evident foolishness was a key cause of the government’s fall. And his insistence that only mean-spirited reactionaries oppose his plans is evidence that he lacks the capacity to understand how people perceive his behavior.
That brings us to his ideological transformation in office from a self-proclaimed centrist security hawk to a member in good standing of the radical Left.
The votes for at least half of the 19 mandates Lapid won in the last election were given to him by the center-right. Yesh Atid contended for these votes against the rightist Bayit Yehudi party led by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
Netanyahu threw many of the ballots Lapid’s way when he opened a vicious attack against Bennett in the final weeks of the campaign.
Out of respect for his voters, Lapid gave his first policy address at Ariel University in Samaria. During the coalition talks he and Bennett formed an alliance to force Netanyahu to take both of their parties into the government.
Without Bennett it is entirely possible that Lapid would have spent the last two years as head of the opposition.
Yet, within a few months of taking office, Lapid began a gradual slide to the Left. In recent months the slide became a steep and rapid descent as his broadsides against Netanyahu and the Right became ever more frequent and extreme.
Lapid’s most radical position has been his unhinged opposition in recent weeks to the draft basic law defining Israel as the Jewish nation-state.
For those with short memories, the draft law began as an initiative of the Livni-led Kadima party, co-sponsored by nearly 80% of its Knesset faction. Yet, much to the consternation of his Zionist voters, Lapid caused untold damage to Israel by proclaiming that the anodyne draft legislation, most of the provisions of which are already anchored in standing law, and which he supported until just recently, is “anti-democratic.”
If that wasn’t enough, during his press conference on Wednesday night, Lapid unleashed a wild attack on Netanyahu. Lapid proclaimed that during Operation Protective Edge last summer, Netanyahu’s cabinet “lost its faith in his ability to manage” the war. This allegation says more about Lapid than it does about Netanyahu.
After all, if he believed that Netanyahu was incompetent to lead the nation in war, how did he dare to stay silent? Why did he repeatedly vote in favor of Netanyahu’s decisions?
Lapid accused Netanyahu of destroying Israel’s relations with the US. He claimed that he receives frequent calls from US senators demanding explanations for Netanyahu’s “patronizing, and contemptuous” behavior toward the US.
The problem with Lapid’s allegations is that the public doesn’t believe them. During and in the immediate aftermath of the war, Netanyahu’s popularity was sky high.
As for relations with the US, this week Bar- Ilan University’s BESA Center released the results of its biennial survey of Israeli opinion of relations with the US. According to the survey, Israelis blame US President Barack Obama, not Netanyahu, for the crisis in relations with the White House.
Whereas 73 percent of Israelis believe the US is a loyal ally of Israel, only 37% believe that Obama’s position toward the country is positive. Sixty-one percent believe he is either negatively inclined toward Israel or neutral.
According to Haaretz, the White House recognizes that the Israeli public blames it for the crisis in relations. On Thursday, the paper reported that the administration was planning to escalate its anti-Israel policies, but now will put them on hold. Administration officials reportedly fear that US pressure on Israel during the elections campaign will increase public support for Netanyahu.
During his press conference, Lapid insisted that Netanyahu will not serve again as premier.
But according to polls, Netanyahu has no rivals for the job. It is not merely that nearly three times as many people think that Netanyahu is the best person to serve as prime minister when compared to his closest contender, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. It’s also that the polls show right-wing parties picking up seats, while Lapid’s party is likely to lose more than half it seats in the Knesset.
Far from Lapid’s insistent claim that Netanyahu is “cut off” from the public, it is Lapid who sees nothing but his own reflection.
According to a report Wednesday published by the NRG website, members of Yesh Atid’s Knesset faction are furious with Lapid. They believe that his move to the Left is destroying the party.
And they are correct.
The 10 mandates from free market supporters on the center-right that Lapid won two years ago will go to actual center-right and rightist parties. Likud, the centrist party just formed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon, Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu will all pick up votes from disaffected Yesh Atid voters.
All that remains of Yesh Atid’s great promise are nine Knesset seats which Lapid took two years ago from Labor, Kadima and Meretz.
Today the leftist parties are polling 33 Knesset seat total, and it is hard to see how that number can rise.
This brings us to the reason these elections are so necessary. Lapid’s con job on the voters two years ago meant that the public didn’t receive the center-right government it wanted. Lapid taught the public that there are no center-left parties, only leftist parties that pretend to be centrist for electoral purposes.
These elections are necessary because the public hasn’t changed in two years. It still wants a center-right government that supports free market economics. And now, according to the polls, the public understands what it needs to do to get the government it wants. It needs to boot out the Left.
And so we arrive at the polling data. Whereas the undisguised Left is where it has been for the past 10 years, at roughly 20% of the electorate, the center-right is polling 50%.
With the haredi parties, Netanyahu can form a coalition government with no leftist parties that rests on the support of nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Knesset.
Until now such a coalition was deemed politically unattractive by the political consultant class, because the public believed that only the Left could call itself the Center. Now, thanks to Lapid, the public sees the truth. The Left in power means lies, bad policies, and political chaos. The Left out of power means truth, good policies and political stability.
Back in the halcyon days of 2013, when Yesh Atid was the toast of the town, Lapid told us that the “old politics” are dead, and that “new politics,” had won the day. These “new politics” would propel the country to new heights of good government and economic growth.
Lapid of course was lying. But his slogan might work for the Likud in the coming election cycle.
By finally exposing the Left as incapable of ever moving toward the Center, Lapid has taught us what we need to do to get the government we want. And the polls indicate that the public has learned the lesson. The price tag for a truly center-right government with liberal economic policies is up to NIS 1.2b. That’s a liquidation sale price.