Op-Ed: Lapid is Running Scared
After a dismal showing in a recent popularity survey, Finance Minister Yair Lapid is once again moving left, at least in his public statements, but this time implicitly threatening to abandon his Yesh Atid party’s alliance with the religious Zionist Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party.
In a recent Panels poll of Israeli voters rating the job performance of Israel’s ministers, Lapid scored dead last among the cabinet’s 23 ministers. While it’s true that responsible Finance Ministers tend to do poorly in these surveys because of the frequent need to impose unpopular spending cuts to reduce the deficit, the extreme result of that survey may be seen as surprising and frightening for Lapid, especially given the popularity of Yesh Atid in last year’s election.
It seems that the poll results did, indeed, come as a shock to Lapid, and therefore, his response has been quick and very public on the political front. The issue of the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, commonly referred to as peace talks, has been increasingly contentious in the coalition, but hasn’t yet torn it apart.
In a clear signal to his many disappointed left-wing voters, Lapid took action to stem his sharp popularity decline. Speaking at the Globes Israel Business conference in Tel Aviv, Lapid, in a clear and unprecedented swipe at his Jewish Home partner, which has led the opposition to a Palestinian state, said that the coalition must be aware that Yesh Atid "will see to it that those who seek to undermine the negotiations will pay a heavy political price."
Time flies when you’re having political fun as strange bedfellows, but we should remember that it’s only been less than a year since Lapid and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett established their bold political alliance, which successfully prevented Prime Minister Netanyahu from leaving either party out of the coalition in formation.
The strategic alliance, despite the fierce criticism that it aroused from both the haredi and most of the strongly secular parties, clearly was a brilliant out of the box maneuver by both leaders. The ability on the part of both Bennett and Lapid to transcend clear political differences on religion and state, as well as on the pivotal issue of whether to create an independent Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, left the other political parties flabbergasted, yet helpless to respond.
Less than one year later, the tides seem to be shifting. In recent days, we have seen Jewish Home joining forces with Avigdor Lieberman’s center-right Yisrael Beyteinu party to block a Yesh Atid-sponsored civil union/gay marriage law, an action which has greatly angered some of the more left-leaning Yesh-Atid Knesset members, possibly even including Lapid himself.
After an attempt by Jewish Home to weld together a compromise wording - rejecting recognition of gay marriage, but allowing a form of civil union for everyone else - was rejected by Yesh Atid, the Jewish Home cooperated with Yisrael Beyteinu to torpedo the bill.
Lapid’s latest public statement, implicitly threatening to break up the current coalition by encouraging the replacement of Jewish Home with one of the left-wing Opposition parties, could be the beginning of the end for the Bennett-Lapid alliance, but may also be a harbinger of new political alliances in formation.
Whether Lapid’s threat represents political revenge or is simply a desperate response by a scared politician concerned about losing his voter base, we should not be surprised if the Jewish Home starts exploring a different strategic direction.