A little while ago, I was at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya when a handsome and charismatic man in an elegant black suit, black shirt and no necktie made his way across the campus, flanked by an entourage.
“Who is he?” I asked someone in his entourage.
“Yair Lapid. He is the head of the Yesh Atid Party.”
“And are you with him?”
“What’s your name and position?”
“I am Yaakov Peri. I am a member of Yesh Atid.”
Peri, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency and the senior security figure on Lapid’s list, granted me an interview for Israel Hayom. He spoke very plainly, as if it was the first time that anyone reading Israel Hayom would have even heard of him or of Yesh Atid. Peri is No. 5 on the Yesh Atid list, and with the party having won 19 seats, this means he will be a member of the new, 19th Knesset.
The stir over Yesh Atid’s surprising gains in this week’s election made me think back to my interview with Peri and connect the dots. Should Israelis really be so shocked by Yesh Atid’s rise? Political ideology aside, these people seem to “get it” when it comes to relating to young people and people concerned with moving Israel forward. Few people make waves in elections by claiming to keep things exactly the same.
When I asked Peri about the importance of the youth vote, he said, “We want to convince them [young people] that there is a lot of change that can occur in our country and in daily life. We want to change the government system by minimizing the number of ministers and vice ministers. We are such a small country. We only need 18. We currently have 35. We want to lower the cost of living and build 150,000 units as business projects to create jobs.”
As an American citizen, I want to be careful not to express a bias for any particular Israeli party over another. I support Israel, and I strongly favor the U.S. having a positive and effective working relationship with Israel and its leaders as the haven of democracy in the Middle East.
While objectively observing Israel’s election results, it is clear that Yair Lapid articulated a simple and optimistic vision for Israel. That observation is justified by his Yesh Atid party’s surprise ending to an otherwise uneventful Israeli election cycle.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is popular with many Israelis — and for good reason — but should Israelis really have been surprised at Yesh Atid’s surge?
Lapid portrayed himself as an average Israeli citizen and a champion advocate of Israel’s young people and the struggling middle class. Political figures who can speak to the next generation generally create a stir in politics. They come across as the everyman ready to take on the challenges of the electorate’s future, and this gets people excited.
In the lead-up to the election, one of Lapid’s party members, Rabbi Dov Lipman, was active on social media with the aim of reaching English-speaking voters and young, technologically savvy voters. He uploaded a video from his YouTube account of Lapid speaking to a group of young people in English.
The seemingly unpretentious, 49-year-old Lapid again donned the black suit with no necktie and captured the young audience by speaking directly to who they were as a people and the pride they should take in moving Israel forward.
“This country was built and established by people your age, 21, 22, from all over the world, who came here and said, ‘If I’m not happy with the reality of my life, I’m going to create a different reality. If I’m not happy with the direction my country’s taking I’m going to make sure and take a different direction.’ Those people said to themselves, this is what I do. I’m a part of a whole. We are all a part of something. That’s the strength of this place. That’s the strength of being Jewish,” Lapid said.
“People spend a lifetime trying to be part of something. They always go to the same bar. They join cults … they join street gangs … all because they want to be part of something. We have this as a birthright, but we have to work on it every day of our life, and this is what you do, and you do it also outside politics. You do it outside politics because this is where things are happening, this is where you change stuff.”
Agree with his political views or not, Lapid seems to “get it.” He spoke to audiences in both English and Hebrew. He spoke of a stronger future for Israel, but he tapped a vein that few others seemed to address when he spoke of the actual essence of being Jewish and bringing a love for Israel to a higher level.
Princella D. Smith is a freelance contributor to Israel Hayom. She was a communications staffer to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and has also served as a communications director on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She is currently a graduate student at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.