As a TV star and newspaper columnist, Yair Lapid titled his weekly commentary “Being Israeli” – a rhapsody about the politically centrist middle-class that he saw holding together a fractious country, with him as its tribune.
As caretaker prime minister after parliament dissolved itself on Thursday, the still-chiseled but now gray-haired Lapid may have to reach out more widely to maintain a stable government and win a Nov. 1 election on his own merits.
A decade in public service at the head of the Yesh Atid(“There is a Future”) party which he founded and in which he has never faced a serious challenger, the 58-year-old has built a solid resume of cabinet roles and statecraft.
Next month, Lapid, who retains the foreign ministry portfolio he held under his coalition partner Naftali Bennett, will host U.S. President Joe Biden, a visit that may herald warmer relations with Saudi Arabia.
In contrast to the nationalist Bennett’s impatience with talk of Palestinian statehood, Lapid has described such diplomacy as necessary for Israel’s well-being – but argued that both sides were too domestically hamstrung to pursue them.
On Israel’s arch-foe Iran, Lapid is not expected to change course. But his credibility on the home front – and experience from a previous term as finance minister – will be tested by a spiralling cost-of-living crisis.
Despite not graduating from high school, Lapid became a successful writer and made no secret of self-teaching he needed with each new government role.
During an earlier stint in Hollywood working for Israeli-U.S. mogul Arnon Milchan, Lapid gained a regard for American power-projection and expectations of a Middle East ally.
In 2005, he wrote a popular TV series, “War Room”, whose dialogue and camera work drew directly from “The West Wing” but whose premise was an Israeli fantasy: a secret unit of elite spies and military officers who handled national crises as professionals, rather than politicians.
But Lapid learned how to horse-trade.
After an unhappy alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu, he teamed up with Bennett to topple the veteran premier a year ago at the head of an unprecedentedly diverse coalition of nationalist, liberal and Arab parties.
That consigned to the opposition ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions, whose leaders have long scorned Lapid as “Yaheer” – Hebrew for “arrogant” and a pun on his first name.
Lapid rather inherited that mantle. His late father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, was a Holocaust survivor turned secular politician who delighted in antagonising the rabbis.
But while invoking the elder Lapid’s memory of the Nazi genocide when advocating for a tough stand against Israel’s enemies, Yair has been less keen to engage in intra-Jewish quarrels.
“The Israeli system is in need of serious change and major repairs,” he said last week. “What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity. Not to let dark forces tear us apart from within.”
Lapid is married with three children, one of whom is autistic – a condition he has spoken of publicly in campaigning for disabled rights in Israel.
Writing by Dan Williams Editing by Tomasz Janowski