Yair Lapid, republic, and rhetoric

Yair Lapid has had a rough week. On Thursday, part of a phone interview with Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea was leaked, wherein the premiership hopeful threatened to “persecute” Chabad-Lubavitch over members’ political allegiances, detailing that “it will be the end of Hanukkah menorahs on every corner during Hanukkah, and Chabad houses around the entire world. It will be the end of your story on loving every Jew.”

Chabad is most famous for its Chabad on Campus initiative, providing Jewish college students with Jewish experiences, instilling them with a sense of Jewish pride and practice that they would otherwise be deprived of. If you are not an American college student, you might have seen some of their young men and women on the streets of major cities providing Jewish men the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah of tefillin and distributing Shabbat candles to Jewish women. Across the world they operate Chabad houses, synagogues and community centers, bringing Judaism to places and people where it would otherwise be impossible to live a Jewish life in any way.

Chabad is not only a good Jewish organization, but a necessary one. They bring Jewish light to those abandoned in the darkness of assimilation. It has been Chabad, for the last 80 years, on the front lines in the battle for the survival and success of the Jewish people. Like many Jews around the world, I attended Shabbat services at a Chabad house, and can personally attest to their great Jewish pride and hospitality. The prospect of Lapid’s political persecution is unfathomable, it would create a deep rift, a black hole within the Jewish community unlike anything in almost a century.

Just a few days after his viral anti-Chabad threat, Lapid let slip that he would seek to include the Joint List in his government. The Joint List is the umbrella for three Arab parties; Hadash, Balad, and Ta’al. The former is an openly communist party that publicly condemns Israeli counterterrorism operations, most notably likening Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to ISIS in the wake of the assasination of Hezbollah militant Samir Kuntar in 2015. The latter two are a pair of pan-Arabist socialist parties. Balad was the political home of Haneen Zoabi, the former MK banned due to repeated praising of terrorist operations, including the kidnapping and murder of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel in 2014. Ta’al is currently chaired by Ahmad Tibi, who famously orchestrated the protests outside the Knesset against the move of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, paving the way for the deadly riots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would follow.

The prospect of including these terrorist-sympathizers in a government terribly offensive to many Israeli’s, many have had friends or family who have died at the hands of the same terrorists members of the Joint List, would-be ministers in a Lapid government, praise. Embracing these people is a brain-dead exercise in political malpractice at best and a malicious, Machiavellian power-at-any-cost calculation at worst.

If you follow Israeli politics with any degree of closeness and have also read Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Lapid’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week should come as no surprise. Republic makes the oft-ignored but important point that politics reflect the soul, with Aristotle’s later work tying the soul segment to a mode of persuasion.

Plato’s ruling logistikon (guardian) class reflects the logos (logical) part of the soul and is swayed by logos (appealing to knowledge) arguments, the militaristic thymoeides (auxiliary) class reflects the thymos (spirited) part of the soul and is swayed by ethos (appealing to credibility) arguments, and the remaining, producing body politic made up the epithymetikon (artisan) class which reflects the eros (appetitive) part of the soul and are swayed by pathos (appealing to emotion) arguments. In ancient Israel, this setup was expressed by the analytical Great Knesset, the powerful but ideally subordinate monarchy, and the Priesthood and prophets, representing the nation’s desire for repentance and public morality. Currently, it is understood that Plato’s format is represented by the ideally “blind” judiciary branch, the enforcing executive branch, and the legislative branch, ready to fill the nation’s appetite for political representation.

It is also in Republic that Plato issues a warning of temperance, that each tripart should keep to their own lane or face dire political consequences. One may find exceptions in the legislative branch, logos or ethos politicians sitting within the epithymetikon. Usually this is for good reason; Ayelet Shaked is a logos politico that focuses on judicial reform, Ayman Odeh is an ethos politico that has been (rightfully) blacklisted into the opposition.

And then there is Yair Lapid, the political equivalent of a beheaded chicken, desperate, flailing, all from a core failure to heed Plato’s warning.

Lapid is an emotionally-driven, sectoral leader, a true pathos politician. What Betzalel Smotrich is to Hardalim, what Avigdor Lieberman is to secular nationalists (and, to a lesser extent, Russian aliyot), what Mansour Abbas is to religious/traditional Muslims, Yair Lapid is to upper-to-upper-middle class, secular, neoliberal Gush Danites. He has cultivated a political personality as a representative of a small, specific group of people, bringing their emotional needs to the floor of the Knesset. When thrust into an unnatural position with no preparation, like that of a national leader, he will categorically fail.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with being a pathos politician in the legislative body, until they ignore Plato’s warning of temperance and begin to pretend they are something they are not, ie: a national leader, an ethos politician. Pathos politicians lack the illusive aura of leadership, authority, and credibility of an ethos personality, too niche, too inherently divisive to build a coalition of voters large enough to seriously challenge for national leadership and too emotionally-driven to channel the ever-important prudence of the ethos politico. Putting a pathos politician, like Lapid, into an ethos role with no real, intentional change to his political personality is akin to taking a fish out of water and into a tank of balsamic vinegar.

This is the reason why Lapid has had such a bad week, his political instincts are not at the level he is playing at. His first instinct as a pathos personality is to hold the sectoral line as hard as possible, threatening even to “persecute” Chabad over members’ political leanings, in spite of the division it will cause. When he tries to override this instinct and act as a great uniter, he will extend an olive branch to the worst corner of Israeli politics, lacking the political prudence of an ethos politico.

Pathos politicians in the past have made the transformation into ethos politicians, but this takes hard work, a years-long internal and external transformation. The most famous example of such a change came from America’s 35th president, who literally had to change his entire persona up to and including his name from Massachusetts Rep. Jack Kennedy to esteemed statesman John F. Kennedy. This is not the kind of thing Yair Lapid has done nor a political operation he and his team and condense into a month.

So it seems Yair Lapid will take this bad week on the chin and soldier on, bound to repeat these embarrassing public missteps. He will continue to flounder, continue to make the wrong move, because he is out of his element and out of his league.

If I were a betting man, I would put money that, come next election, it will be Merav Michaeli, not Yair Lapid, leading the left-wing bloc. Lapid will recede back into his natural role of niche-market mouthpiece, while Merav Michaeli, a more natural fit for the ethos personality necessary for national leadership, will bring Labor back to the forefront of the Israeli left.

As for now, it looks like the Israeli left will have to bite the bullet on this election. Their bloc leader is a blundering B+ player while any more capable figures are sidelined by handicapped momentum or other forms of political misfortune. His success so far is a combination of blind luck, in the form of a weak and divided left-wing bloc, and media hype, the same media hype which contributed to the overinflation of similarly unfit left-wing champions.

Between Likud, Yamina, the Haredim, RZP, and Sa’ar’s conservative New Hope, the traditional-national right will have about 70 seats. Despite remaining questions on potential coalitions, this should be a wake-up call to the Israeli left. The left desperately needs to stop elevating unfit leaders, masking their issues with media cover, and then pretending like everything is okay. This playbook has been tried every election since 2015 and it has yet to yield any real positive results. The left must heed Plato’s warning of temperance, find someone who has the right aura of leadership, and ensure he or she has the political ability to back it up. Until that point, which does not seem like it is coming very fast, or potentially ever, get very comfortable with losing.

With Purim coming up, remember that Israeli’s understand very well when someone is wearing a costume. Yair Lapid is a pathos man in ethos clothing, no matter how much the media inflates him as a national figure his desperate actions of a man out-of-place will always serve as a tell. The people of Israel see through the games of the left, they see through the plots of the opposition media, and they see through Yair Lapid.

About the Author
Jesse Edberg is a spokesman for Yamina where he is specifically charged with running English-language youth engagement. While graduating from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in 2020 and studying at the Tulane University of Louisiana, Edberg has also served on several American campaigns, most notably Larry Hogan's successful 2018 gubernatorial reelection bid, and has written for several online publications.
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