MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) and MK Carmel Shama (Likud) have proposed bills to impose a cooling-off period on a journalist wishing to run for election to the Knesset. The bills to amend the Law of Elections to the Knesset would require journalists who cover politics to wait six months (in Tirosh's bill) or a year (in Shama's bill) after quitting journalism before entering politics.
The law currently mandates cooling-off periods for military personnel and public servants wishing to enter politics.
Both bills are widely interpreted as intended to hurt the chances of journalist Yair Lapid, the presenter of Channel 2's Friday evening news show and the son of the late Yosef Tommy Lapid, who was also a journalist-turned-politician. Pundits say that in the case of Kadima, the background for what is being dubbed the "Lapid Law" is the party's weakness in the polls, which – combined with the weakness of Labor – seems to create fertile ground for the entry of a new center-leftist force. Likud, while in better political shape than Kadima, may also recognize Lapid's potential to steal votes from it.
The elder Lapid, a long-time writer in Ma'ariv, became the head of the secularist Shinui party in 1999, which under his leadership received 15 seats in the 2003 elections. He was appointed Minister of Justice in Ariel Sharon's government and was a supporter of the Disengagement.
The younger Lapid continued in his father's footsteps as a writer in Ma'ariv, then in Yediot Acharonot, where he writes a weekly column, and became one of Israel's leading celebrities. He began hosting television talk shows in 1995 and was the main presenter for Bank HaPoalim's advertising campaign, a very lucrative position which he quit two years ago in order to begin presenting Channel 2's central weekly newscast on Friday night. He has appeared in films, has written nine books, and is an amateur boxer.
Explaining the Disengagement
The younger Lapid was also an avid supporter of the Disengagement, writing afterwards that the main reason it needed to be carried out was not because of security or diplomatic considerations, but to teach the settlers a lesson. He was sued for libel after he wrote a column that mocked Hanael Dayan, the soldier who refused to shake hands with then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz because of the Disengagement. Lapid made use of military correspondence regarding the soldier's family that he received improperly from then-Head of Personnel Branch, Maj.-Gen Elazar Stern. The court made Lapid publish an apology and pay a relatively low sum of NIS 12,000.
Yair Lapid was recently interviewed by television journalist Ilana Dayan, who asked him whether he intended to run for the Knesset. He answered: “I will have to decide that one minute before the elections.”
Tirosh's bill explains the reasoning behind a cooling-off period for journalists in the same way that the same requirement for military personnel is explained in the current law: “When one who previously covered the political arena contends in elections to the Knesset or serves as minister, there is a concern that his recent decisions as a journalist were influenced by his political views, which were made public when he joined the list of candidates for elections.”
A mandatory cooling off-period would be important for “maintaining the independence of the media systems,” the bill's explanatory notes say, “precisely because of their important contribution, and the well-known faces of the media people.”
Shama's bill explains that while working in the media appears to be a private vocation, it has a public dimension. “Today the media is a central and important part of the democratic discourse and the shaping of public opinion,” he explained. A cooling off period is needed “in order to preserve the independence and objectivity of the press and prevent its politicization or tendentiousness,” the Likud bill says.