The Israeli political system may face a major shakeup after Yair Lapid announced last week that he is entering politics.
The popular Channel 2 news anchor and darling of the secular public resigned from his long-time journalism career on Sunday, igniting a great deal of media buzz about his rumored plans to establish a new centrist political party that seeks to change the electoral system and get the ultra-Orthodox sector into the workforce.
If Lapid chooses to follow this path and lead his own party, polls show that rather than hurting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Right-religious bloc – the very bloc Lapid aspires to defeat – it will propel the Right to another firm victory in the Knesset.
As Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer gloomily predicted, a new Lapid party would only add to the muddle of parties on the Left, further splitting the Center-Left bloc, and enabling the Likud to become the strongest force by far in the Knesset. “Lapid’s entry into politics is going to anchor Netanyahu’s position as a prime minister … It’s still unclear what Lapid is going to offer, but he will bring about many medium-sized parties – everyone will have 15 mandates … these parties will face a large Likud party with Lieberman, which will always win,” Ben-Eliezer told Ynet.
Indeed, the polls show that a Lapid party has no chance of dethroning the Likud. But the polls also show, in an interesting turn of events, that Kadima would suffer the heaviest blow from a Lapid-led party, revealing just how much of Kadima’s fate rests in Lapid’s hands.
Both a Channel 10 poll and a Panels Ltd. poll conducted for the Knesset channel right after Lapid’s announcement, found, for example, that, if general elections were held today, Lapid’s party would be the second largest after Likud, pulling in as high as 20 (according to Panels) mandates, next to Netanyahu’s party which would win as high as 30 mandates. Kadima, by contrast, would lose at least half of its current 28 seats, pulling in between nine and 14 mandates.
While both a Teleseker poll for Maariv and a Dahaf survey for Yedioth Ahronoth revealed a less successful Lapid party if elections were held today – putting the party in fifth place in the Knesset – the polls showed that Kadima would still be hard-hit by the entrance of a Lapid party. The Teleseker poll projected that Kadima’s mandates would drop to 15, while Dahaf projected they would drop to only 13.
By contrast, the Dahaf and Panels Ltd. polls showed that Kadima’s position would greatly improve in an alternative scenario in which Lapid joined the party. The Dahaf poll said a Lapid-included Kadima would win 29 seats, overtaking Likud, with 27 seats, as the biggest faction in the Knesset, while the Panels Ltd. poll projected Kadima would win a substantial 32 seats against the Likud’s 27.
While the polls may be misleading, as polls often are, they nevertheless beg the question: Is it not ironic that six years since Kadima was established, after the emergence of strong, experienced politicians like Tzipi Livni, who almost became prime minister, and Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter, who both have impressive backgrounds in security and defense, it is Lapid, a relatively-inexperienced political newcomer, a journalist and celebrity, who can make or break the party?
How did Kadima go from being the largest party in the Knesset in 2006 and 2009, to having its very survival threatened now by Lapid’s political debut?
In an apparent attempt to save the party from its plummeting poll numbers Livni announced last week that Kadima would be holding early primaries, and expressed confidence that she would win again. Weeks earlier, after she rejected repeated calls for early primaries, Livni said, “My decision will be made, first and foremost, based on what is good for Kadima and the challenges before us.”
Unfortunately for Livni, it is not she, but Lapid who seems to be good for Kadima.
Hence the desperation by other Kadima officials to have the popular journalist join their side. Kadima Council Chairman Haim Ramon publicly called on Lapid twice in one day to join the party. On Channel 10’s London & Kirshenbaum news show on Tuesday, Ramon basically repeated what he told Army Radio in an interview earlier in the day: if Yair Lapid really wants the current regime to change and really wants Netanyahu to be replaced, he would choose to join Kadima because that is “the only way to remove Netanyahu from power.” However, Ramon’s comments seemed to be a cry for help from Lapid more than anything else. While the Kadima Council head tried to frame Lapid’s joining Kadima as something that would be to the journalist’s advantage, his words seemed to be conveying another message: Sure it would be nice to beat Netanyahu, but at this point we are just hoping to stay in the game.
Whatever Lapid’s plan may be, Kadima will certainly be watching his moves very closely in the coming months.
Lapid himself will have to consider whether he is willing to swallow his pride in order to advance the interests of the centrist voters both he and Kadima are vying for. Ultimately, he will have to step back and ask himself where in the political system he could do the most good and make a lasting impact in his political aspirations to challenge Netanyahu.
This article was reprinted here with permission from Israel Hayom.