Israel's Lapid: from TV anchor to PM hopeful

By: AFP      Published: 10:48 PM, 5 May, 2021
Israel's Lapid: from TV anchor to PM hopeful

Yair Lapid, a former news anchor once known largely for his chiselled good looks, was tapped Wednesday to form a new Israeli government after a failed attempt by veteran prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

When Lapid founded his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party in 2012, some dismissed him as the latest in a series of media stars seeking to parlay his celebrity into political success.

But Yesh Atid finished second with 17 seats in March elections, Israel's fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years, and on Wednesday President Reuven Rivlin gave the opposition leader a 28-day mandate to form a government.

"I will do everything to ensure that an Israeli unity government will be formed as soon as possible so we can get to work for the people of Israel," said 57-year-old Lapid after the announcement.

Rivlin noted that Lapid might seek a deal in which another lawmaker serves first as prime minister, as part of a compromise rotational coalition.

Lapid is the Tel Aviv-born son of the fiercely secular former justice minister Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, another journalist who left the media to enter politics.

His mother, Shulamit, is a novelist, playwright and poet. 

An amateur boxer and martial artist who has also published a dozen books, Lapid was a newspaper columnist before becoming a presenter on Channel 2 TV, a role that boosted his stardom, and he once featured on lists of Israel's most desirable men.

Centrist 

He ran a sober campaign for the March election to position himself as the alternative to Netanyahu, political columnist Yuval Karni wrote in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper in March.

"Lapid with the knife between his teeth has changed," Karni wrote. 

The fiercely secularist and centrist Yesh Atid had claimed a surprising 19 seats in Israel's 120-member parliament back in 2013 polls, establishing Atid as a credible force in politics.

The party joined the centrist Blue and White coalition formed in 2019 under the leadership of former military chief Benny Gantz.

Blue and White then battled Netanyahu's right-wing Likud in three elections in less than a year.

When Gantz decided last spring to enter a Netanyahu-led coalition, citing the need for unity as the coronavirus pandemic was gathering pace, Lapid bolted.

He accused Gantz of breaching a fundamental promise Blue and White had made to its supporters: that it would fight to oust Netanyahu.

In an interview with AFP in September, Lapid said Gantz had naively believed that Netanyahu would work collaboratively within the coalition.

"I told (Gantz), 'I've worked with Netanyahu. Why don't you listen to the voice of experience... He is 71 years old. He is not going to change'," Lapid said.

After exiting Blue and White, Lapid took his seat in parliament as the head of Yesh Atid and leader of the opposition.

He described the short-lived Netanyahu-Gantz unity government as "a ridiculous coalition", in which cabinet ministers who disliked each other did not bother to communicate.

He also predicted the coalition would collapse in December, which it did, amid bitter acrimony between Netanyahu and Gantz.