Former journalist and rookie politician Yair Lapid’s new party is off to a problematic start.
Lapid chose to step down as anchor of Channel 2′s Meet the Press a few months ago, after the Knesset started advancing a bill that would require a cooling off period between journalism and politics. Critics in the Knesset accused Lapid of using his television show as a political platform and agreed to bury the bill if Lapid quit.
A second bill targeted Lapid’s fundraising, which was not subject to any regulations, supervision, or transparency because he had refused to register his party in the Knesset Party Registry. This time Lapid waited to act, until the bill – which would have placed heavy penalties on him for fundraising outside of the system – passed. Lapid announced he would make the trip to the Party Registry office this week to name his party and comply with the same campaign rules and regulations the other parties are required to follow.
He chose the name Atid, which means ‘future’ in Hebrew. Lapid is promising the country a new future under his new party banner, Atid, which also happens to rhyme with Lapid.
Atid was a controversial pick, since many political insiders recall the previous Atid Party – led by one-term MKs Alex Goldfarb and Esther Salmovitz – which existed from November 1995 to June 1996. Goldfarb and Salmovitz were elected on the nationalist Tzomet Party list and broke away to join Rabin’s government, first as members of Yiud, before abandoning one of their friends and forming Atid. Goldfarb’s infamous and controversial vote supporting the Oslo Accords in return for a position as Deputy Housing Minister and a Mitsubishi car went down as one of the dirtiest corruption scandals in Knesset history.
Goldfarb would eventually join Labor, and the name Atid resurfaced in a new party called Atid Echad (One Future), an immigrant party with mostly Ethiopian support, led by Abraham Negosa and Yechezkel Stelzer. Atid Echad’s platform focused on immigration, absorption, Jewish education, and Jewish values.
The Atid Echad Party finished 17th out of the 31 lists that ran in the 2006 election, picking up 14,005 votes. The party did not pass the electoral threshold but took pride in coming only 4,000 votes shy of former Deputy General of the I.D.F. Uzi Dayan’s heavily-funded anti-corruption Tafnit Party. Negosa bounced around after leaving Atid Echad before accepting the 8th slot on Jewish Home (Habayit HaYehudi) before the 2009 elections. Following the elections, he returned to the party where he started his political career – Likud. Stelzer took control of Atid Echad in 2009 but chose not to run. Neither Negosa nor Stelzer have ever served as an MK.
Stelzer, in an exclusive interview with JewishPress.com, said that fundraising while playing by the rules is difficult, and it is impossible to pass the threshold with less than a million dollars. In 2006, the party raised $200,000, and he has no doubt he would have entered the Knesset if he had more funds. He disclosed that the money issue kept the party from running in 2009, and money will again determine whether the party runs in the next elections.
Stelzer expressed frustration at the prospect of Lapid appropriating Atid Echad votes because certain immigrants might get confused, and for this reason opposes Lapid’s use of the Atid name. He said that if Lapid reaches out to him all options will be on the negotiating table and open for discussion, including the possibility of merging the two parties or of Lapid buying the party Stelzer has registered.
The Party Registry needs to determine whether to authorize Lapid’s Atid Party despite the existence of Atid Echad, and Stelzer intends to inform the Registry, if contacted, that he does not consent to Lapid’s party name. If the Party Registry authorizes the Atid Party, legal action remains an option and strong possibility.
Stelzer told JewishPress.com: “I am receiving a lot of pressure from Rabbis and nationalist activists to take legal action against Lapid. If enough people pressure me I will strongly consider it.”
Lapid did not respond to requests for comment. This is consistent with his policy of not responding to journalists’ requests or talking to members of the press in general.
It seems that rookie politician Yair Lapid’s campaign is encountering one legal problem after another. He first dealt with legislation that forced him to relinquish his free public platform as television host of one of Israel’s highest rated shows earlier than he expected to. Further legislation required him to register his party to prevent him from raising money free from the restrictions the other parties face. Now he is facing legal issues surrounding the name of his party.
It remains to be seen what Lapid’s options are if he cannot come to an agreement with Stelzer on how the two parties will move forward. One thing is certain though, it will be interesting to watch Yair Lapid’s future problem with Atid Echad unfold.