Yair Lapid, Israel’s centrist opposition leader, edged closer on Sunday to forming a coalition government to replace country’s longest-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Before joining politics, the 57-year-old was a television news anchor and author. When he 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.
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Still, Lapid’s party claimed 17 seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament in the March 2021 elections and got the opportunity to form a coalition after Netanyahu failed to form one. This was Israel’s fourth inconclusive vote in less than two years.
The politician was born in Tel Aviv on November 5, 1963. He is the son of secular former justice minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, another journalist who left the media to enter politics. His mother Shulamit is a novelist, poet and playwright.
Lapid has published a dozen books and was a newspaper columnist before joining Channel 2 TV as a presenter, a role that boosted his stardom, and he once featured on lists of Israel’s most desirable men.
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Back in 2013 polls, the secularist and centrist Yesh Atid had claimed a surprising 19 seats, 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.
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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.