Who is Yair Lapid, former journalist, actor, songwriter, singer, boxer and TV showman? No less than the brand new prime minister of Israel. Central-European public might remember his notorious comments on Polish history, including a saying that “Polish death camps were real, and no bill can change that”.
Born in 1963 in Tel Aviv, the new Israeli prime minister is the son of Tommy Lapid, a prominent politician and journalist, the leader of Change party and minister of justice. His mother Giladi was a novelist, whose books were published in various languages. Liberal and anticlerical leanings of his parents had strong influence on the future political views of Jair. Also, his grandmother , killed in Auschwitz camp, was a victim of Holocaust.
He is an atypical figure for the political scene of Israel. He is not a former soldier like most of the prime ministers of his country. However, since his birth he has been brought up in the circle of the Isreali elite thanks to his parents. It is not exaggeration to say that their contacts have actually paved up his career. He has not passed any mature exams and his military period is under the fog of mystery, which makes him even more ‘unsuited’ for a political career in a state such as Israel. Lapid’s relation with the army was the following: he was listed up into the frontline unit, but then, out of nowhere, he was transferred into the press bureau of the IDF.
After the military period, he became a weekly felietonist of Maariv newspaper, one of the biggest outlets in the country. For 30 years he has been painting out the daily life of Israel for different media, including TV stations where he was a talk show master of ceremony, thus gaining even more popularity. He also got his moment of sport, as an amateur boxer.
He rejected formal clothing and caught attention by a negligent attitude. He was not treated as an intellectual, though. Just an American-style celebrity.
Gradually, he changed his image. In 2008 he became a host of serious information TV program, and successfully started his much more formal career. He interviewed top figures in the country, like, in the video below, Binyamin Netanyahu:
All of this was just an ouverture for creation of his own political party called Yesh Atid – There is future – liberal, Zionist and anticlerical. In the 2013 elections his fresh party gained 19 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. In 2013 he became a minister of finance, thanks to coalition with Benyamin Netanyahu.
It was a trap for a young and charismatic politician, the ministry was too hard to handle for Lapid. His career stopped after two years. Next elections pushed his party into opposition.
The position of his party also changed since it was pushed into the shadows of opposite parties. His anticlerical views were pushed aside, now the key thing was a harsh approach toward Palestinians and defence of the good name of Israel in the global discourse. In this context came his remarks about “Polish death camps” and demagogic attacks on Polish institutions.
In 2019 he started collaborating with Beni Ganz and created the Blue-White electoral coalition. He played a second fiddle in this partnership thanks to the charisma and authority of Beni Ganz. They won second position in the election, but Beni Ganz decided to join the government of Benyamin Netanyahu. It was the end of their cooperation. Lapid became the leader of the opposition.
This position helped him to create the government of change in May 2021, which was aimed against Netanyahu. In this government, created by 8 parties (!) – among them one Arab conservative party – Naftali Benett became the first prime minister, but Lapid was the major figure since he was a leader of the main, biggest party in the coalition. He became an architect of the whole endeavour.
The agreement between the parties said that after two years Lapid would become the prime minister. In the meantime he was the minister of foreign affairs, the position he held during the invasion of Ukraine.
His approach toward the invasion was not strict. Israel wanted to be considered a mediator, yet a one who resolutely opposes the Russian barbarity. The role was written up for two actors: Benett was much more soft, while Lapid played on a more harsh fiddle.
Israel does not want to disrupt its relations with Russia, but still wants to be considered part of the West. There will be any change in this matter. Israel is going to balance more and more in this situation.
After a year the government of change in power the coalition fell, nevertheless a couple weeks ago Lapid became prime minister. He rose to the top.
What is his program? He does not have any strict agenda. A mainstream politician, he has to teeter among different forces that create his coalition, from liberals to conservatives. Many journalists and experts criticise him because of his unclear approach.
What is clear is that he wants to continue the active forign policy of Israel and prioritise the matters of security.
He would keep fight with what Israel considers anti-semitism and counter the accusation of apartheid being waged against Israeli state by human rights activists. This is, however, something that all mainstream parties in Israel would do. He is not going to change the status of migrant bonded-workers from the West Bank and Palestine, whose situation has recently worsened, even though certain trade unions try to stand in their defence.
When it comes to the foreign affairs he wants to prolong the status quo. He is not going to attack Russia openly, but also he is not going to lift any sanctions that have been imposed so far. His rhetoric is going to be much smoother than the one of Netanyahu’s or Benett’s. In reality, he is an interim prime minister: a caretaker to go till the new government is created.
The new election will be held on 1st of November. But nothing says that a stable majority will be achieved.
Cover photo: Yair Lapid celebrates his party’s Yesh Atid success in 2013. After a series of setbacks afterwards, he now rises to the top.