The trouble is that none of these pretenders comes with a message. They appear on the scene with a cookbook mentality: Take a few popular phrases, add 3 celebrities, 2 generals, 4 women, 1 Russian, and with the help of a clever PR expert and two "strategic advisers" you are on your way.
For Lapid, the three popular phrases are now: take money from the irresponsible tycoons (Who are they? Are there also responsible tycoons?), take money from bloated government departments (which ones? Do they include the Ministry of Defense?), take money from distant settlements (How distant? What about all the other settlements?)
There seems to be no one around who comes with a deeply held conviction, a message that "burns in his bones", as you say in Hebrew. Shelly of Labor has a serious social message, but refuses adamantly to speak about anything else, especially about such unsavory subjects as peace and the occupation. Kadima is wish-washy about everything. And Lapid?
AH, WELL -- that depends on the polls. Lapid is a prolific writer with many books to his credit and a weekly column in the mass circulation Yediot Aharonot. But even with a microscope one cannot detect the trace of a serious answer to any of the country's burning national or social questions.
That may be clever. If you say something that is outside the consensus, you create enemies. The less you say, the less trouble. That is a basic political truism. But not the stuff great leaders are made of.
It has often been said of Lapid that he is the man every Jewish mother dreams of as her son-in-law. He is tall, very handsome, looks much younger that his 49 years, and has a movie-star quality. He also had a famous father.
"Tommy" Lapid was a Holocaust survivor. He was born in the Hungarian-speaking enclave of the former Yugoslavia and spent World War II in Adolf Eichmann's Budapest. He became a feuilleton writer (though less successful than his fellow Hungarian, Ephraim Kishon), but made his name as a TV panelist who introduced a completely new style of aggressiveness, some said vulgarity. Example: when a poverty stricken woman complained about her abject condition, he shot back: "So how did you pay your hairdresser?"
Lapid Sr. had a split personality: in personal relations he was easy-going, even charming. His public persona was pugnacious and abrasive.
So was his political message. He was famous for the intensity of his hatred of the orthodox Jews. He was also a rabid ultra-nationalist, who even defended Slobodan Milosevic. But in domestic affairs he was a true liberal.
Almost by accident he became the leader of a moribund party and led it to an astounding election triumph, amassing 15 Knesset seats and becoming a good Justice Minister. The party then shrank again as rapidly as it had grown.
All this tells us little about Lapid Jr. What kind of political program will he represent, once he is compelled to provide answers? Contrary to his father's aggressiveness, he preaches conciliation, togetherness, moderation. He positions himself in the exact center and clings to the widest possible consensus. His chances seem to be excellent.
However, from now until the elections -- whenever they are held -- can be a very long time. Israel is a cruel country, popularity can fade quickly. The first political test of Lapid will be whether he can keep the public's interest for long without his TV pulpit.
I believe that his entrance into the political scene is a good thing. Our political system is in dire need of new blood. And I can hardly line up with those who say that journalists should not enter politics.
WHAT ARE his chances? Impossible to foretell. It will depend on many factors: when will the elections be held, what happens before then, will there be a war? (Lapid was not a combat soldier, a serious flaw in the eyes of many Israelis.) And first of all: who else will join the fray in the meantime?
I fervently hope that a different kind of new political force will emerge -- a center-left party with a clear and inclusive message: social reform, narrowing the gap between rich and poor, the two-state solution, peace with the Palestinians and the end of the occupation, equality between all citizens (irrespective of gender, race, ethnic origin and beliefs, total separation between state and religion, human rights safeguarded by strong and independent courts - all this enshrined in an iron-clad written constitution.
For this you need leaders with strong backbones, ready to fight for their convictions.
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