Jair Lapid was known in Israel as a moderator and author: Now he could end Benjamin Netanyahu’s career as prime minister. That would pay off his steadfastness.
Two months after the general election, Israel’s opposition leader Jair Lapid is holding all the strings in hand to herald the end of the era of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With a government that spans the entire political spectrum from left to right, the 57-year-old wants to prove with his liberal party Yesch Atid (There is a future): There is a future for Israel without “King Bibi”.
Yesh Atid finished second behind Netanyahu’s Likud with 17 seats in the March election. It was Israel’s fourth vote in less than two years, and once again the mandate was far from clear. After Netanyahu failed to form a government, the mandate went to former television presenter Lapid.
Broad party alliance necessary
In the shadow of the 11-day conflict between Israel and the radical Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip, Lapid tried to forge a viable coalition without Netanyahu. On Sunday he announced that he wanted to form a coalition with the nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett and his right-wing religious Jamina party by the end of the deadline on Wednesday. What both have in common is that they want to get rid of Netanyahu after twelve years in office.
Lapid even offered Bennett the opportunity to be the first prime minister in a joint government for two years. Lapid would then serve the second part of the term. In order to break the threshold of 61 seats in the Knesset, Lapid has to dare to join forces with Bennett and other Arab-Israeli and left-wing parties.
TV presenter, author, prime minister?
Born in Tel Aviv in 1963, Lapid is still known to large parts of the Israeli population as a news presenter on private television and as the author of numerous thrillers, children’s and non-fiction books. Before making a career in politics, Lapid, who is also a hobby boxer and martial arts athlete, was voted Israel’s Most Attractive Man.
When Lapid founded his party in 2012, he was ridiculed by many: Critics judged another case of a media star who hoped to turn his celebrities into political success. But Lapid, who followed in the footsteps of his father, the former Justice Minister Josef “Tommy” Lapid, with his switch from journalism to politics, taught her better: In the 2013 election, Jesch Atid achieved a surprise success; The party entered the Knesset with 19 seats, and Lapid became finance minister for a short time.
Perseverance pays off
Lapid has long been at odds with Netanyahu. In 2019, Jesch Atid joined the blue-white center-left alliance led by ex-army chief Benny Gantz. When Gantz broke his central election promise a year ago after the third parliamentary election within a year and under the impression of the corona pandemic and entered into a unity government with Netanyahu, Lapid left the blue-white alliance.
As the opposition leader, Lapid predicted the end of the fragile Netanyahu-Gantz coalition in December. Lapid’s steadfastness in not joining any government under Netanyahu’s leadership apparently boosted him in favor of the electorate – while Gantz lost much of its approval.