Can a "Messiah" Save Israel Now? Israel Regularly Anoints Political Leaders but So Far They Have All Proved False

Article excerpt

"The Messiah is not coming. The Messiah is not going to phone, either"

In a still-popular song from the 1980s, Israeli rock singer Shalom Hanoch mocks secular messianism. But that hasn't kept secular Israelis from waiting for a political messiah who will save us from our enemies and, most importantly, from ourselves.

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Right now, the Messiah du jour is TV anchor and publicist Yair Lapid, a man without political experience or ideological positions. He's just the latest in a long list of self-anointed political saviors:

* In 1977, IDF chief of staff-turned-archeologist Yigael Yadin promised to save the country from the corrupt Labor groups that had brought us the Yom Kippur War. In its first election, his party, Dash, won 15 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. In its second election, it won no seats and disappeared from politics.

* In 1984, charismatic and macho former Commander of the Air Force, General Ezer Weizman, promised to redeem us from the fiasco of the first Lebanon War. The party he created lasted less than a term.

* In 1992, Rafael Eitan, known primarily as the incompetent IDF chief of staff who had led that first Lebanon War, won eight seats for his Tzomet party, running on an anti-corruption and anti-ultra-Orthodox platform. By 1999, his party was defunct.

* In 2003, TV journalist Tommy Lapid, whose charming public persona combined Central European elegance with Archie Bunker-like tact, created a new party Shinui ("Change"), which won 15 seats; by 2008 it had evaporated.

These parties burned out because they were opportunistic and lacked substance. Their leaders rode in like saviors-on-demand, promoting lowest-common-de-nominator politics.

And now we have Yair Lapid, son of Tommy. He, too, has adopted a perfect-candidate strategy: complete lack of political experience, membership in the military-economic elite, vacuous charisma, a generally anti-Haredi stance, and a staunchly non-ideological position except to say that both of Israel's big ideologies, left and right, have failed.

He refuses to give interviews, substituting his Facebook page for a political platform and virtual "likes" for political rallies. And yet polls have shown that, were elections held now, Lapid--who hasn't even named his party or chosen a slate of running mates--could win 11 to 15 seats, which would make him a major player in Israel's moribund political system.

He's winning because Israel has become a land of reality TV, where image counts more than substance and passive viewers are supposed to suspend critical thinking and abandon any demand for change.

He is, he tells us, quintessentially Israeli. "I'm a patriotic Israeli," he writes on his Facebook page. …