Let’s start with the positive. From his current position of weakness, Yair Lapid is putting up a fight worthy of a true campaigner. If only Moshe Kahlon were more like him. But whereas Kahlon meanders half-paralyzed from one public gathering to another, Lapid fires in all directions.
To his credit, Lapid didn’t try to avoid responsibility. He agreed to become finance minister (though he didn’t have much choice) and led on housing when the housing minister fled the issue.
Despite all this, it’s hard to keep your cool when you hear his latest speeches. The person who kept silent during minor affairs — like the prime minister’s excessive water bills and penchant for pistachio ice cream at the public’s expense — and larger affairs — like the closed corruption investigations into Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — suddenly remembers that corruption is rife. (Again, to his credit, he opposed the purchase of a private jet for the prime minister.)
But the truth runs deeper. Lapid is frustrated by his poor showing in his own opinion polls. A few days ago he presented the case for the defense: Things would be different if only he had been allowed to keep his job.
So here’s the prosecution’s case, presented in a news story he should have made happen back in March 2013: “The finance minister has submitted his new budget featuring revolutionary reforms: the settlement division of the World Zionist Organization will become a department of the Housing Ministry, the Jewish National Fund will be abolished, the distribution of public funds by coalition parties will be prohibited, and the natural gas monopoly will be broken up.”
Lapid did none of the above. When he took office he declared that political parties would no longer distribute funds, but he yielded to pressure and let this continue. He didn’t confront the monopolistic natural gas companies and approved the insane transfer of funds to the settlement division, which passed on hundreds of millions of shekels in recent years, including massive transfers to West Bank settlements. He did try to confront the JNF, but too late.
It’s unlike Lapid to forget the basic truth that there’s no second chance to make a first impression. His first alliance was with Ofer Eini, then head of the Histadrut labor federation, the last person he should have linked to the budget. His party had no activists and internal politics to worry about, so he could have taken revolutionary steps, even against strong labor unions. Instead, he chose the easy path of raising money from the public.
Even a Quixotic battle against power centers would have been politically astute, not just correct in its own right. He was in a perfect position to do this. Even if he lost several rounds he would have gained. But Lapid didn’t try, or he tried too late.
Much of the problem is that Lapid likes to be surrounded by yes-men. Some of his associates behave like the groupies of a TV star addicted to surveys carried out by his American pollster.
His total unfamiliarity with financial issues should have convinced him to lean on ministry veterans who know every player and every regulation. Instead, he arrogantly shattered the authority of the ministry’s top people, announcing that he wouldn’t take part in discussions attended by the person responsible for housing at the treasury’s budget division. He also publicly reprimanded the person in charge of higher education at that division.
In diplomacy Lapid’s recent statements are also tinged with dishonesty. Lapid was one of the least influential cabinet members during the Gaza war; he never presented a diplomatic plan, neither before nor after the fighting.
His statements on taking part in meetings of donor countries to help rebuild Gaza and on “reconstruction in exchange for demilitarization” sound hollow. There’s no strategy behind that sound bite.
He was barely involved in the negotiations with the Palestinians; he knew little about what was going on. Lapid’s campaign so far revolves around the slogan “we were stopped in the middle.” The true story is “we didn’t know how to start.
The article was published in Haaretz