Is Ofer Shelach the next knight on a white horse of the Israeli left?

Ofer Shelach’s announcement that he wishes to challenge Yair Lapid, and demand primaries for Yesh Atid’s leadership, caught the political system by surprise. Shelach is known to be a diligent MK, high intelligent with strong morals, and as Lapid’s best friend for more than 30 years, who have helped him form Yesh Atid and leading it as his man behind the curtains. So, what happened? 

Yesh Atid was tailored for Yair Lapid, who diligently leading it since 2012. Yesh Atid is based on Lapid’s autocracy, which is secured until the year 2025 (At least) after the mandate given to him was extended twice over time. Yesh Atid is based on field coordinators but lacks a party governing body, and it’s not by mistake. In order to rule easily, you need to have fewer checks and balances. It took Netanyahu years to take over the famous Likud’s “Merkaz”, and the Labor party’s institutions is one of the reasons for its ugly long dying. 

Shelach’s timing is not accidental. Yesh Atid was supposed to become the magnet for all of Blue & White and the Labor’s party voters who felt betrayed after the last two joined Netanyahu’s government. The fact that Lapid and Yesh Atid are scraping the 20 mandates in the polls, while his former “Brother” Naftali Bennet is gaining popularity with almost the same number of mandates in the polls, is creating stress and criticism on Lapid’s leadership. 

Political resources say that Shelach’s announcement is real and meant to set an alternative to Lapid’s way, but it can help Lapid, who still seems to have the upper hand at Yesh Atid. Primaries will prove that he is listening, and primaries will allow to cycle the blood in the party’s veins. Winning against Shelach will strengthen Lapid’s status is the sole leader of Yesh Atid, but also Shelach’s who ate least up until now was Lapid’s man behind the scenes acts and can now be recognized as the 2nd strongest man in the party.  

Having that said, I find it hard to believe that Lapid will support Shelach’s demand. Yesh Atid’s structure is not accidental and based on Lapid’s father experience – Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, whom at 1998 was nominated as “Shinuy” party leader and led it until 2006, when he resigned after gaining a strong opposition from within the party’s council, and “Shinuy” faded out in the following election. Lapid the father became a leader with a small party with 1 MK and in less than 4 years brought it to 6 and then 15 mandates, making Shinuy the 3rd largest party at that time, but Lapid’s poor human relations along with poor political decision making has made him many enemies, from other parties and within his own party. Yair Lapid is acting differently than his father, but do not want to find himself with his back to the wall, where one can “steal” his party from him. 

Lapid has been leading Yesh Atid for 8 years now, gaining enemies. For the “Harerdim” (Ultra-Orthodox) Lapid is a persona non-grate (Unwelcomed). They will never form a coalition with him. Lapid also failed to form an alternative to the Likud party. While his ex-“brother” Naftali Bennet is gaining popularity in the polls giving him recognition as a PM candidate as well, due to his acts around the CoVid-19 crisis in Israel, offering solutions, Lapid is busy clashing with his former partner Benny Gantz of Blue & White, instead of acting like the adult trying to lead with bringing alternate solutions to the government impotence. 

And that is exactly where Shelach enters. Ofer Shelach, a former journalist, intelligent, sharp with affirm ideology, was until recently Yair Lapid’s behind the scene person and his closest consultant. Recently they went into many disagreements and clashes, mainly around combining forces with Benny Gantz and “Chosen Le’Yisrael” (Gantz’s party prior to making Blue & White), and around Lapid’s Zigzags around different policies. I will say that Lapid, who in his early days in politics delegitimized the Arab parties naming them “The Zoabi’s” (name of Hannen Zoabi, Israeli-Arab nationalist politician of Balad Party), is now willing to collaborate with them. Shelach sees Lapid’s Yesh Atid glass ceiling and understands there is a big number of Israeli leftists who are looking for a political home but lacks to see Yesh Atid as their home. Shelach wishes to sound a clearer voice with firm ideology for Yesh Atid and making it a home for all who gave their voices to Blue & White and the Labor party and sow them nominating Netanyahu again as PM. Those people will not give their votes to Blue & white nor the Labor party again. 

Can Shelach make a change in Yesh Atid? I doubt it. Yesh Atid is Yair Lapid and it doesn’t seem like things will change soon. I do believe that an opportunity will come for a new party. This party will need to define itself first, setting a new clear vision for the state of Israel. Shelach will be a part of this party as I cannot see him under Lapid’s wing for much longer. 

About the Author
Yaakov (Kobi) Cohen is an Israeli-American, born in Jerusalem and now reside to New York City where he works in a Jewish Non-for-Profit. As a political activist, Cohen is most interested in the Israeli-American Jewish relationship and its impact on the future of the Jewish world and seeking to build bridges between Israelis & Jewish Americans, or at least establish a different dialogue. Kobi is a co-founder of Israel Shelanu and Host of BALAGAN - Explaining Israeli Politics Podcast
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