Friday, January 25, 2013

Israel's New Power Broker

At the New York Times, "The Making of Yair Lapid":
TEL AVIV — They pitched tents along Rothschild Boulevard and took to the streets in unprecedented numbers, hundreds of thousands demonstrating against the rising costs of gas, apartments, even cottage cheese.

Back on the genteel boulevard on Wednesday, many of those middle-class protesters from 2011 said they had taken their grievances to the ballot box the day before, helping to catapult Yair Lapid, a suave, handsome journalist-turned-populist-politician, into Israel’s newest power broker.

“He spoke out the strongest about how everything in this country is upside down,” said Elad Shoshan, 28, who works with computers and rents an apartment on a cheaper street off the boulevard.

Echoing his candidate’s mantra, Roni Klein, 52, an accountant, said, “My wife and I work, and still it is very hard for us to finish the month.”

Mr. Lapid’s new, centrist Yesh Atid party shocked the political establishment by winning 19 of Parliament’s 120 seats, becoming Israel’s second-largest faction and a crucial partner for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose relatively poor showing left him scrambling to form a stable coalition.

While Mr. Netanyahu remains all but assured of serving a third term — Mr. Lapid said Wednesday that he would not unite with Arab lawmakers to stop him — Yesh Atid’s ascendance promises to shift the government’s focus to pocketbook concerns despite the pressing foreign policy issues Israel faces.

Mr. Lapid’s campaign hardly challenged Mr. Netanyahu’s policies on the Iranian nuclear threat, the tumult in the Arab world or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was the first election in memory in which such existential security issues were not emphasized, as a growing majority of Israelis see them as too tough to tackle. Even Mr. Netanyahu barely spoke about Iran, his raison d’être.

Instead, voters and analysts alike said Mr. Lapid had captured the hearts of Israel’s silent majority with his personal charm and a positive, inclusive message that harnessed the everyday frustrations that fueled the huge social justice protests in 2011.

And see the Times of Israel, "Netanyahu offers Lapid Foreign or Finance Ministry."