It was widely reported in the press that Finance Minister Yair Lapid had an interesting time at the Knesset earlier this week. Responding to a number of no-confidence motions he was repeatedly heckled by a number of MKs from Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties. It was equal parts conditioned reflex and kabuki. The son of the late Tommy Lapid rises to speak in the Knesset and the hairs in the back of the ultra-orthodox MKs’ necks stand up. He speaks, they heckle. Pavlov might as well be ringing a bell for his dog for all the surprise that this generated. The animus towards Lapid has become so predictably formalized that it looks like bad Kabuki theater minus the pancake makeup.

So why was it so widely reported? So the ultra-orthodox got riled up by Lapid’s insistence on continuing to breathe, and to keep his position as a senior minister in the government. Been there, done that. Next.

But what happened next was somewhat expected and rather surprising at the same time. Turns out that Lapid, the pretty face on TV for so many years, the guy we know boxes for sport, is a little bit of a street brawler. Turns out that Lapid actually knows how to handle a heckler, and I don’t think that the hecklers saw it coming.

Still not enough to explain the tsunami of coverage. So Yair Lapid has a sharp wit and withering tongue and is not afraid to use either. Whoopee! How does that explain the level of attention the incident got? It made it to the broadcast news, to the printed papers, and it went nuts on cyberspace (see here, here, and here in Hebrew). The social networks are full of it. Excerpts from the exchange, translations, YouTube videos taken from the Knesset channel. You name it, it’s there. What’s going on?

The thing was interesting and that surely helps.  But it was more than that, it was engaging and entertaining. Fair enough. But lots of other things happen that are interesting, engaging, and entertaining and we don’t all go nuts over them. So there’s something else here.

Here’s my thoroughly unsophisticated explanation. It resonated quite simply because people agreed with him. Taking note of the comments made about the videos and the articles, I would say that the kind of people applauding Lapid seem to be quite diverse. These are not left-wing Tel Avivians having a laugh; it’s all sorts of people from all sorts of places essentially saying one thing: “I’ve been wanting to tell the Haredi parties just that for a while.” For about twenty minutes earlier this week, Finance Minister Lapid actually spoke for the nation. “We don’t hate you. I’ve said it 7,000 times, we don’t hate you… But we are done taking orders from you.” And with that, a good chunk of the nation let out its breath and maybe chuckled just a little.

So it wasn’t Kabuki. It was traditional Greek theater. The Greeks were big on the whole concept of catharsis through theater, of releasing your stress through the trials and tribulations of the actors on stage.

Sophocles would be proud.


File under: OK. I did not see that one coming.