In Israel, election season comes early


Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is comforted by Yair Lapid as he speaks during the funeral of Lapid's father, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, a former cabinet member and journalist who succumbed to cancer at the age of 77 the day before, on June 2, 2008 in Tel Aviv.


Avi Ohayon

Elections seem to be in the air in Israel, with new- (and old-) comers throwing their hats into the ring daily, even though the actual polling date, at least on paper, remains 18 months away.

Increasingly, Israeli political analysts anticipate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will call for early elections, possibly as soon as six months from now, thus upending the electoral schedule currently calling for elections in late 2013.

Last month, in a surprise announcement, Netanyahu announced that his party’s primary election — a one-day affair in Israel — will take place later this month. Most observers agreed it was a successful gambit to cancel out a possible challenge by former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who was left with little time to prepare a serious campaign.

On Sunday, Yair Lapid, 48, a veteran newspaper columnist and television broadcaster, announced his departure from his must-watch Friday night news program and his weekly Yedioth Acharonoth column and his intention to enter politics. The announcement came as no surprise to followers of the sharp-tongued Lapid, a staunch and vocal secular native Tel Avivi whose pet issues, all of which fall under the rubric of civic society, have come recently to the political forefront.

Lapid, who is known as much for his bedroom eyes as for his pointed pen, is a member of Israel’s intellectual and media aristocracy: his father was another journalist-turned-politician, the late Tommy Lapid, and his mother is the internationally renowned novelist Shulamit Lapid.

Lapid has yet to articulate a platform, but if he follows his father, as expected, he will represent a yearning for a new version of what is described as “old, good Israeli values,” or, in plain English, the good old days.

Lapid has made a career out of defining himself as the face of a new Israel. Ha’aretz poltical analyst Anshel Pfeffer writes:

In a media career that spanned three decades, 48-year-old Lapid has done everything to epitomize the "new Israeli" and, since there is no clear definition of what that is, he has strived to create it in his own image. For eight years he presented the eponymous "Yair Lapid" talk show on Channel Two prime time, in which the last question he presented to each of his guests was, "What is Israeli in your eyes?"

In perhaps one of the greatest giveaways of his career, he interviewed his father, journalist-turned-politician Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, [a war-time immigrant from Hungary] whose answer to this question was an emotional, "You."

An entirely different sort of celebrity, also representing salt of the earth values, jumped into the race today. Noam Shalit, father of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped and held by Hamas for five years before his dramatic release last October, announced today that he will be running in the primaries for a seat in the Labor party Knesset list.

The Israeli Labor party, once the roost of iconic leaders such as Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres, has been thought dead for the better part of a decade. It is now experiencing a resurgence in the polls through the popularity of its new leader, another former journalist, Shelley Yachimovitch.

Shalit said that years of struggling for his son’s release had exposed him to the Israeli public and that now he hopes to serve the nation. The Labor party, he said, breaking over five years of monk-like silence about any political inclinations, is his “natural home.”