Israel's newest politician breaks his silence

AP News
Posted: Feb 16, 2012 2:05 PM
Israel's newest politician breaks his silence

Israeli TV anchorman turned politician Yair Lapid broke his silence Thursday, making his first public speaking appearance since he quit hosting a top-rated weekend news show last month and formed a political party.

Speaking at a business conference in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, Lapid lashed out against a wide range of ills he said were plaguing the country _ from political corruption to the disproportionate power of business tycoons to ultra-Orthodox Jews who don't serve in the military.

He attacked those who "live on our expense" and railed against a "rotten" political system that has become a "corrupt game" in which Israelis are extorted by sectorial parties who represent those who don't work and don't serve in the military.

"The Palestinians don't need to battle us," Lapid said. "They can make a cup of coffee, light a cigarette and wait 12 years and the Zionist country will crumble from within."

Lapid's entry into politics has created a huge buzz in Israel and energized opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The son of Joseph Lapid _ a former newspaper columnist and TV personality who also started his own party and went on to become justice minister _ Lapid is one of Israel's most recognizable faces and brings a rare star quality to Israeli politics.

Elections are currently set for late 2013. But in Israel's parliamentary system, governments rarely serve their full terms, and analysts believe elections could take place this year.

Polls show Lapid's new party _ which has no name _ could win as many as 15 seats in the 120-seat parliament and eventually become the second largest party in the country, trailing only Netanyahu's Likud.

Little is known about Lapid's views when it comes to regional politics. But in his columns and television commentaries he portrays himself as a reasonable and pragmatic common man, patriotic yet critical of the government and sympathetic to social issues.

Such views could make him attractive to centrist Israelis and he is expected to primarily take votes away from the centrist opposition Kadima party, which has recently seen its support plunge in opinion polls.