Torch Sets Israel Afire
On Israeli Torches, a False Prophet and Seven Dwarves
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On Israeli Torches and a False Prophet
Today, January 8, 2012, Yair Lapid announced he is leaving his post as anchor of the Israeli television network Channel 2 in order to compete for a seat in the next Israeli Knesset. If a similar announcement was to be made by almost any other Israeli, I would probably ignore it. Yet, this one is a torch menacing to set Israel afire.
This is almost literally so. The name “Yair Lapid” means “Torch shall Light.” However, a funny pun is not enough for making news. Mr. Lapid didn’t announce yet which party he would join, or if he is to establish a new, independent one. However, polls show that if he establishes a new party, he’ll get between 15 and 20 seats; this is proper news. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, would receive only 14 seats. Likud would be the largest party in the Knesset, with 24 seats, and the Labor Party would tie in second place with Lapid’s party with 15 seats. Kadima would lose the most seats in the next election, receiving only 10 seats as opposed to the 28 seats it received in the last election. Ehud Barak, as stated in this website in the past (see War Declared on Barak), would be out.
That means Mr. Lapid may be a central player of Israeli politics in the near future. However, what are his politics? We don’t know. Working in the media, he was not allowed to express political opinions. His success in the polls is the result of his popularity as an anchor. He would be able to sell any type of political plans to the public; he could sell ice cream in Greenland, sand to Libyans, and war to Americans.
This may be strange for a country in such a complicated situation as Israel, but there are precedents. The clearest one is Tommy Lapid, the father of Yair. Yosef “Tommy” Lapid was an Israeli television presenter, journalist, politician and government minister known for his irreverent style. He headed the secular-liberal Shinui (“Change” in Hebrew) party between 1999 and 2006. When the Shinui party was dwindling, Lapid was invited to join it. He transformed the party into a successful one. Shinui won six seats in the 1999 elections, and 15 seats in the 2003 elections, making it the third largest in the Knesset after Likud and Labour. Shinui was invited to join Ariel Sharon’s government; Lapid was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice. Thus, his son, is Israeli aristocracy.
Israel being Israel, there are always odd sides to everything that happens there. Years ago, Tommy Lapid gave an interview to the BBC. In one of his typical whipping phrases, he called Bill Gates a force of evil (I don’t want to repeat the exact words). Any Hebrew speaker knowing Tommy and hearing the interview would recognize it as a figure of speech. Against all odds, the interview was heard by the leader of the largest cult in La Paz. “Cristo Viene” (“Christ Shall Arrive”) manages to attract 5,000 followers every Sunday in a major cinema theatre. Its leader, Mr. Claure, had transformed this odd interview into a central piece of his preaching. According to him, Bill Gates is the anti-Christ described in Revelations. He has even cartoons proving that. “Tommy Lapid said so” is his mantra; sadly, since Tommy died in 2008, he is unable to correct Claure’s claim and is in the way to be declared prophet by a leading Bolivian cult. Doubtful honor.
On Seven Israeli Dwarves
There were other similar cases. Most notorious was Rafael “Raful” Eitan. A former IDF Chief of Staff (our dramatic encounter is mentioned in The Cross of Bethlehem), he founded the Tzomet (“Junction” in Hebrew) Party in 1983 after his retirement from the position of chief-of-staff in 1982.
He headed Tzomet throughout its existence and modeled it as a secular, right-wing party with a strong agricultural side. Many of Tzomet's members and MKs were neighbors of Eitan in Tel Adashim (a small moshav near Afula, in the Jezreel Valley, not far from the kibbutz described in The Cross of Bethlehem). Tzomet ran for the 1984 elections in a joint list with the Tehiya party and Eitan was its only member of the Knesset. Tzomet and the Tehiya separated in 1987, and Tzomet ran independently in the 1988 elections, winning two seats. The party joined Yitzhak Shamir's government in 1990, with Eitan being appointed Minister of Agriculture. The party left the coalition in December 1991 in protest at Shamir's participation in the Madrid Conference. In the 1992 elections Tzomet gained eight seats, but were not included in Yitzhak Rabin’s coalition. With the exception of Eitan, none of the new Knesset members had any political experience; most were completely anonymous. A popular joke at the time described the party as "Raful and the seven dwarfs".
In the 1999 elections Tzomet ran alone for the Knesset. It won less than 10% of the number needed to cross the 1.5% electoral threshold. After this humiliation, Eitan retired from political life. Despite his death in 2004, his party still exists, though it invariably fails to cross the Knesset’s electoral threshold.
Yet, his influence can still be seen. His party created the "peace for peace" slogan, which is now used by all Israeli right wing parties. It means that Israel should not give up territories to get real peace, that if Arabs really want peace, they should stop the policy of demanding lands using threats but give up on their demands.
As comical as Yair Lapid’s initiative may be considered right now, this type of appearance (“parachuting” it is called in Hebrew) of outsiders into the very heart of the political system is not new. They create political bridges for the crossing of voters between what is considered as different political bands, or sharpen positions of central parties. As such, Lapid’s parachute may be announcing radical changes in the Israeli political map. Towards which direction? Shin Beth knows.
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