At the Shabbat table, a few nights before the previous elections, my 12-year-old son asked me “if you couldn’t vote for Blue and White, who would you vote for?” I answered “Gesher.” My reason was because the politician that reminded me most of Yair Lapid, whom I have supported since the founding of Yesh Atid, is Orly Levy-Abekasis.
The similarity I am referring to is not that they were both models who used to do TV commercials—such as Lapid’s famous Top Gun style commercial for Goldstar Beer and Orly Levy’s commercial for the chocolate bar, Mekupelet—though I admit this is an unusual coincidence when discussing Knesset members. Instead, what I meant was that they both have strong social agendas, focusing on issues such as the need for new hospitals and Israel’s high cost of living.
The commonality between these two candidates was brought home to me this morning when listening to an interview with Yair Lapid on Kan B’s show “This Morning” with Aryeh Golan. Before Golan even asked his first question, Lapid began by noting that in the earlier segment of the show, the interview dug for gossip about Ayelet Shaked’s more than decade old falling out with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wife Sara. Why not focus on the issues that are really important to the average person, asked Lapid, such as the high cost of recreational programs for kids that is burying the average Israeli this summer?
Golan responded with “you are all about the social issues then, you remind me of Orly Levy-Abekasis.” (Golan had interviewed Levy-Abekasis just the day before and she too wanted to focus on social issues.) Lapid responded that, of course he is focused on social issues, that is why he entered politics. For those of us who have followed Yesh Atid from the beginning, this is hardly a surprise, but Golan’s observation helps put the Blue and White / Gesher phenomenon in stark relief against the backdrop of what else is happening in this election.
Israel is entering a period of economic crisis due to government overspending. At the same time, cost of living has been skyrocketing and the middle class is having difficulty keeping up. Only a handful of politicians have made these problems their focus. The ones that stand out the most are Moshe Kahlon, Orly Levy-Abekasis, and Yair Lapid.
Kahlon’s focus has been on the difficulty for younger people to afford housing, and as Minister of Finance, he has tried—with questionable success—to alleviate this problem. Moreover, as a member of the Likud government, there is little he can do to slow down the spending.
Orly Levy-Abekasis has spent the last year or so focused on the healthcare crisis and the need to improve our hospitals and other medical services. She has made this the defining issue of her campaign, diving into its complexity and mastering its many details, a fact which comes across in interviews when she is given the opportunity to discuss it. Her hope is to be appointed health minister so she can begin to apply the needed reforms.
In contrast to Kahlon and Levy, Yair Lapid is number two in one of the largest parties in Israel, and his aspirations are not to join someone else’s government as a minister, but to help write the agenda for the government as the number two of the ruling party and eventually as Prime Minister. Moreover, even though Benny Gantz is the head of the party, Blue and White has a diverse platform and the social agenda aspect of it is dominated by Yesh Atid’s social platform.
For this reason, Lapid takes a broader view than Levy, speaking about the need to end spending on nonsense such as coalition funds and Israel’s Airforce One, and put that money into new programs. Gantz, for instance, has promised that when Blue and White form the government, they will take the coalition money and make early childhood nurseries free, which is just one example of what can be accomplished by reappropriating funds more productively.
The ruling party, however, which for now determines priorities and spending, has a different perspective. The Likud party, or at least its current iteration under Netanyahu, believes that having a right wing government is so important that it is worth buying one’s not-necessarily-right-wing coalition partners (i.e., the Chareidi parties) with extremely generous coalition funds that each party can spend as they see fit. Moreover, Netanyahu seems willing to use the same strategy—dispersal of government funds—to ensure that all his coalition partners vote for the various legal changes that would make it easier for him to avoid prosecution in case the Attorney General decides to prosecute.
Admittedly, this is only one difference between Blue and White and Likud, but one of vital importance to the pockets of most Israelis, many of whom are struggling. And yet, we hear very little about these issues. Partly this is because other questions such as how to handle Israel’s relationship with West Bank Palestinians seem more consequential, or, at least, they bring out stronger feelings. Another reason, however, has to do with news.
As Lapid said, and as I wrote in a previous blog post titled, “Does Bogi Oppose the Rotation with Lapid? Distracting Us with Gossip,” election news often focuses on potential cat-fights. In fact, the two examples I used in that article, Bogi vs. Lapid and Sara Netanyahu vs. Shaked, are still dominating the news cycle.
Yesterday, I heard yet another interview with Lapid on Channel 13’s “Before the News,” in which question after question focused on “who said what about whom.” This was so over the top that Lapid literally stopped and asked the interviewer, Udi Segel, “What are you doing? Can we not talk about issues?” A few weeks ago, I saw Ayelet Shaked make the same comment to an interviewer (as I wrote about in the Bogi post) and I am sure there are other serious politicians with the same feeling.
Of course, as both Segel and Golan said in response, infighting and personal grudges between politicians is news. For instance, if it is true that Shaked cannot join Likud only because of a personal spat with the Prime Minister’s wife, that has serious consequences for the country and is newsworthy. Nevertheless, the balance of coverage, I believe, is off.
More importantly, the focus on this kind of piquant news doesn’t reflect the real needs or priorities of the average Israel. Sure, it succeeds in getting people’s attention, but that is because gossip has an addictive quality like drugs, not because the information is really that important. So, I was happy to hear Aryeh Golan state that he can see that Lapid and Levy stand out as politicians unwilling to discuss gossip and who focus instead on social issues.
Unsurprisingly, when I learned that Gesher and Blue and White would not merge, and the “fabulous four” of Blue and White was not to become the “fabulous five,” I was a bit upset. (I would have suggested a different political configuration than what played out, but no one ever asks me.)
Hopefully, if Blue and White win the election, they will see fit to include Labor in the coalition and appoint Orly Levy-Abekasis as health minister, as part of their overall revamping of government spending priorities. If that happens, I am sure that average Israelis will be quite happy that some politicians really do share their priorities.