Popular media icon Yair Lapid has shaken the Israeli political establishment by leaving his position as presenter of Channel 2’s Friday night newsmagazine program to found a political party that could, recent polls suggest, become one of the strongest in the Knesset.
Lapid, who gained popularity beginning in the 1990s as a talk show host for Channel 1 and a columnist for Yediot Aharonoth’s weekend newsmagazine, has been considered a potential political candidate since the death of his father, the fiery former Shinui leader Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, in 2008. His position on Channel 2’s Ulpan Shishi program made the younger Lapid even more prominent – so much so that recent polls have shown a political party with Lapid at its head could overtake Kadima in the next Knesset elections.
While Lapid weighed launching a political campaign close to the next round of elections, his hand was forced by a bill, sponsored by Likud and aimed at preventing Lapid and other popular media figures from running, which would require journalists to retire as much as a year before an election.
In the past few years, Lapid had talked of wanting to eventually enter politics, and his newspaper columns increasingly resembled a political platform. His resignation from television and declared intention to form his own political party drew sharp responses from across the political spectrum. Kadima MKs expressed concern that Lapid would weaken their own party, while veteran Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he feared that Lapid’s party would weaken Labor, as well, and strengthen Likud’s position. MK Nissim Ze’ev of Shas – the frequent target of Lapid’s father during his leadership of Shinui – wished Lapid a resounding failure.
Members of several parties, and commentators throughout the media, noted that the real test for Lapid would be to see whether he could translate his popularity as a media personality into a successful political campaign.