As Israel’s Yair Lapid Surprises in Elections He Draws Comparisons to Obama and Reagan
by Zach Pontz
A successful journalist, TV host, actor, writer, and even playwright, Yair Lapid’s foray into politics not more than a year ago has proven to be a success, too. Lapid and his Yesh Atid party blew away expectations and are projected to take 18-19 seats in the Knesset when final election results are released.
Though Lapid surprised many, he didn’t exactly appear out of thin air. Before entering politics in January 2012, Lapid’s fame was so far-reaching that a Ynet poll once ranked him as one of the top 40 Israelis of all-time.
A familiar comparison for Lapid is to Barak Obama because of his youth, swagger and energy. Amir Mizroch, an editor at Israel Hayom, wrote of the similarities between the two on Tuesday: “Like US President Barack Obama when he ran for his first term, Lapid is someone who is banking on a message of change; change in the political system, change in the nation’s fiscal and social priorities, change in the education system, change to the rules of national burden: he promises that he will work for seismic changes to the national fabric of Israeli society: the ultra-Orthodox must serve in the army or national service and they must join the workforce etc.”
Mizroch even added that “Lapid gave his victory speech tonight from a teleprompter [like Obama], the first Israeli politician to do so.”
The Israeli media are comparing Lapid to a more conservative American politician: Ronald Reagan–both handsome and both apparently successful at making the seamless transition from entertainment to politics.
The contrasting comparisons make sense, as Lapid’s Party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future), takes as its platform many lynchpins of centrist policy: education reform, making peace with Israel’s neighbors, the housing crisis, fighting political corruption, changing the system of government, and most importantly for its leader, fighting for a universal draft.
Lapid’s success speaks to the ability he showed during the campaign to strike a chord with a wide range of voters. Arik Elman, an Israeli political commentator and Algemeiner blogger said that Lapid pulled away from the left enough to attract voters on both sides. “He actually made the effort to distance himself from the left,” Elman noted, adding that his position on Iran is much the same as Netanyahu’s while his belief that Israel should vigorously pursue the peace process mirrors that of the left.
One thing is for sure, if Lapid is to play a major role in the next Israeli government, his remark to supporters tonight that “a heavy responsibility has fallen on our shoulders today,” will certainly be true.