"SHINING TORCH" sounds like the name of a Red Indian (or should I say Native American?) chief. In Hebrew, it is the literal meaning of the name of our latest political sensation: Ya'ir Lapid.
This week, he announced his intention to enter politics and set up a new political party.
Hardly a surprise. For many months now, speculation has been rife. Lapid has hinted more than once about his intention, giving the impression that he would act on it only close to election time. That was clever, since he was the most popular news anchorman on the most popular TV channel. Why give up a post that gives you unique public exposure (and pays a handsome salary to boot)?
Now he has been told by his employers, probably under political pressure, to choose: either/or -- TV or politics.
Some 2061 years ago, Julius Caesar crossed the little river Rubicon to march on Rome, exclaiming "iacta alea est" -- the die has been cast. Lapid is no Caesar and does not speak Latin, but his feeling must have been much the same.
A day later, another well-known personality, Noam Shalit, threw a second die. The father of Gilad, the captured soldier who was exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, has announced that he will run for the Knesset on the Labor party list. After five years leading the immensely popular campaign for his son's release, he has decided to put to political use his rise from anonymity to celebrity status.
A whole series of exes -- ex-generals, ex-Mossad chiefs, ex-CEOs -- are waiting for their turn.
What does that mean? It means that the smell of elections is in the air, though elections are officially due only a year and a half from now, and there are no signs that Binyamin Netanyahu and his far-right partners intend to bring them forward.
THE ATTRACTION of a Knesset seat is hard to explain. Most Israelis despise the Knesset, but almost everyone would sell their grandmother to become a member.
(A Jewish joke tells about a stranger who comes to the shtetl and asks for directions to the home of the synagogue manager. "What, that scoundrel?" exclaims one of the passers-by. "That bastard," "that son of a b*tch," "that miser," respond others. When he finally meets the man and asks why he clings to the office, he answers: "Because of the honor!")
But that's beside the point. The question is: why do so many people believe that a new party has a good chance to win seats? Why does Ya'ir Lapid believe that a new party, headed by him, will become a major faction in the Knesset and perhaps even propel him into the Prime Minister's office?
There now exists a gaping black hole in the Israeli political system, a hole so huge that nobody could fail to notice it.
On the right is the present government coalition, consisting of the Likud, the Lieberman party and various ultra-nationalist, pro-settlement and religious factions.
What is there on the Left and in the Center? Well, next to nothing.
The main opposition party, Kadima, is in a shambles. It has failed miserably to establish a role for itself. Tzipi Livni is incompetent, and it seems that the only merit of her party rival, a former army Chief of Staff, is his Oriental origin. (He was born in Iran.) The latest polls give Kadima half the number of seats it holds now.
Labor, which seemed to rise when Shelly Yachimovich was elected chairwoman, has slid back in the polls to where it was before. Nor has the stock of Meretz gone up. The same goes for the communist and the Arab factions who vegetate on the fringes of the system, if not outside. All of them together could not unseat the Right.
The gap is glaring. It cries out for a new force that can fill the void. No wonder that the various messiahs in waiting hear an inner voice telling them that their time has come.