A Quadruple Heads-Up

Sometimes I find myself reading an article about a politician who won an election or began leading a country out of nowhere. It happened to me recently with the Scott Brown fiasco in Massachusetts, and it happens to me often when it comes to other places around the world, too. But that’s the way things are for all of us, right? You just can’t stay on top of all the latest affairs, all the time.

So I got to thinking, maybe it would be useful for some Half & Half readers if I dropped some names and gave you a heads-up about some people, who in my eyes are the next superstars in Israeli politics. People you’ve probably never heard about – but who have at least hinted on various occasions that they want to reach the top of the pyramid. So, here are:

Half & Half’s 2000 n’ Teens Israeli Top Dogs:

Yair Lapid

Lapid is the son of Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, the former Justice Minister and head of the once-powerful centrist Shinui party. Tommy, who passed away in 2008, was a long-time journalist for Maariv. In 1999, his party got an astounding 15 seats in the Knesset. Like father like son, Yair is considering making his move into politics, too. And he won’t be the first, of course. In recent years, Israel has seen a virtual tsunami of journalists dropping their keyboards in favor of the ugly brown leather seats in the Knesset plenum.

Yair is one of the most familiar faces in Israel today. He’s starred in some of Israel’s biggest movies, hosted Israel’s most famous talk show, he writes the most read-column about his family and marriage in the front pages of the weekend supplement of Israel’s most-read newspaper (Yediot), was the main presenter for Bank HaPoalim’s advertising campaign (Israel’s biggest bank), and two years ago took up the position of anchor of the most watched TV station Channel 2’s flagship Friday night newscast. He’s written 9 novels, and is an amateur boxer. He is loved, adored, even worshipped. To many, he represents “The Beautiful Israeli (HaYisraeli HaYafe)”. Or what they want Israel to be: smart, witty, mainstream – and no less important – drop dead gorgeous (even if surprisingly short).

When asked in a recent interview if he had any intention of going into politics, the country stood still. And he knew we were all waiting for the reply. So before answering, he slowly looked down, paused (as if he really had to think about it, even though everybody knew that he knew that we knew that he knew that we knew), and then said: “I’ll have to decide one minute before the elections”. It was television drama at its best, made by Mr. TV himself.

So basically, if Bibi holds on long enough, we’ll have to wait around 3 years to see if (some say it’s only a matter of “when”, not “if”) Lapid jumps in. But there are already enough who are afraid of him. MKs Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) and Carmel Shama (Likud) have just proposed bills to impose a cooling-off period of 6 months for a journalist wishing to run for Knesset. They’re already calling it the “Lapid Law”.

Meanwhile, Lapid will keep interviewing on prime time TV politicians he might join forces with and transmit his agenda from behind the costume of a journalist.

Ofer Eini

You probably don’t know this, but Ofer Eini is one of the most powerful men in the Middle East. He’s a tax advisor. But he’s also the head of the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union congress. 

Eini climbed the ladder slowly – but steadily – in the Histadrut through the years. Not due to his abilities as a tax advisor, but rather through his skills as a leader and politician of the unions. In 2006, he eventually replaced the former head of the Histadrut, Amir Peretz, who went on to head the Labor party and serve Defense Minister in Olmert’s government (which didn’t end too well, as we all remember).

Since then, Eini has grown stronger by the day. The media has taken a liking to him, and he is often portrayed as the national mediator, the guy who saves Israel at the last minute from huge country-wide strikes, the guy who keeps Ben Gurion Airport open.

He’s a master negotiator – which in my eyes, of all the four people I talk about in this post gives him the best chances of reaching the top one day. As a powerful force in the Labor Party, he was the one who convinced Barak to join Bibi’s coalition last year, and he was the one who time after time since Bibi took office has forced the PM to renege on various taxes and regulations that would have damaged the interests of the unions.

Lately, over the past few months, his rhetoric has been changing. He’s heating up. He’s been warning Bibi and the Finance Ministry that he’s done being Mr. Nice Guy. He’s allowed various small institutions to strike here and there – but nothing major yet. It seems like he’s planning a big, national strike soon. Very soon. And strikes scare people in Israel, especially politicians.

People around Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) say that Eini is heating things up for his own political aspirations, which Eini and the Histadrut have since denied over and over.

But this is probably one of the only times I’ll ever agree with a Likudnik.

Shlomo Lahiani

Lahiani is probably the most charismatic mayor in the country. He was first elected mayor of Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv, as a Labour-backed independent in 2003 with 45% of the vote and re-elected in 2008 with an amazing 86.3% of the vote. To say that Bat Yami’s love him would be an understatement.

But lately, things have gone a bit sour for the Sherrif of Bat Yam. He was arrested by the police in late December 2009 on suspicion of fraud and misuse of public funds. The police made sure the arrest was caught on TV, with the footage showing how the cops confiscated his cellphone and entered his house while the kids were still asleep.

He’s since denied all the allegations, and can’t wait for his day in court to supposedly prove everybody wrong. Most Bat Yamis couldn’t care less if he’s a thief or not – all they know is that housing prices have gone up, streets have been paved, flowers have been planted, and Bat Yam has started to shed its mirror image of Newark, NJ.

On his latest TV interview he didn’t deny he has plans on being Prime Minister one day.

And if he turns out to be Ariel Sharon’s successor as Mr Teflon after the court case – his popularity will go sky high, nation-wide.

Gideon Sa’ar

Sa’ar, the Education Minister, has at times been considered “Bibi’s poodle” (the poodle title was first given to Yossi Beilin, who was dubbed Peres’ poodle). A former journalist and lawyer, Sa’ar’s popularity in the Likud has rocketed over the years, and is considered to be the top candidate of the next generation to take over the Likud.

In December 2008 he won the Likud primaries for their Knesset list, putting him in second place after Bibi himself. He’s repeatedly said that he will not compete against Netanyahu, but everyone is waiting for him to make his next move. And that’s all I’m willing to write about a Likudnik.



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