As election fever grows, Yesh Atid woos 7 rural council chiefs
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As election fever grows, Yesh Atid woos 7 rural council chiefs

Regional leaders say they’re joining the surging centrist party ‘to bring about change’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (4th from right) surrounded by MKs from his party and seven regional council heads who have joined Yesh Atid, March 7, 2017. (Courtesy)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (4th from right) surrounded by MKs from his party and seven regional council heads who have joined Yesh Atid, March 7, 2017. (Courtesy)

With Likud lawmakers beginning to talk about the political landscape “after Netanyahu” and Labor gearing up for a bitter leadership battle, centrist Yesh Atid joined the pre-election fray Tuesday, announcing that seven regional council heads from across the country were joining the party “in order to bring about change.”

In a celebratory press conference held in Tel Aviv, chairman Yair Lapid said it was “a happy day” for the party as he introduced the heads of the Golan, Bnei Shimon, Emek Hama’ayanot, Brenner, Yoav, Megilot Yam HaMelach, and Ha’arava Hatihona regional councils.

“They are coming to us from the Likud, Labor and independent lists. From the deep south to the distant north… These are people that have come to work,” Lapid said, stressing that the new additions would help the party focus on issues relating to the country’s periphery.

“None of them has asked for anything in exchange for joining Yesh Atid. They have come to us because they are no longer willing to define themselves by what divides and separates us, but rather by what unites and joins us together,” Lapid added.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapidat a press conference announcing seven regional council joining the party, March 7, 2017. (Courtesy)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapidat a press conference announcing seven regional council joining the party, March 7, 2017. (Courtesy)

Golan Regional Council chair Eli Malka, arguable the most high-profile of the seven, said that joining Yesh Atid would help the rural communities represented by the council heads.

“We decided together that we will join a political force and we came to the conclusion that the most natural and appropriate place to be is Yesh Atid,” said Malka, a long-standing member of the Likud party.

In recent months, the Yesh Atid party has been rising in opinion polls — repeatedly coming out ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing Likud party.

While the party has targeted voters on both sides of the political spectrum, Yesh Atid’s surge is seen to come largely at the expense of the left-leaning Zionist Union, which polls predict would lose over half of its supporters to Lapid’s party.

Speaking to The Times of Israel after the press conference, Sigal Moran, head of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, said that she had been a long-time member of the Labor party — the dominant faction within the Zionist Union — but felt that Yesh Atid “best spoke the language” of the periphery.

“Yesh Atid can go a long way to advancing the issues important to the periphery and it is on the way to being a party of real influence,” Moran said, hinting at a potential strong showing in future elections.

A general election is theoretically years away, tentatively slated for spring 2019 under Israel’s complicated electoral rules, but with Netanyahu under investigation for a raft of scandals, some analysts believe they may be in the offing sooner than planned.

Formed by Lapid in 2012, the Yesh Atid party stormed to a surprising 19-seat success in the 2013 elections for the Knesset, becoming the second-largest party and joining Likud in the coalition. In the 2015 elections the party slid to the 11 seats it currently holds in the Knesset, where it sits in the opposition.

Despite his party’s initial focus on domestic concerns, Lapid has used his time as a lawmaker to fashion himself as something of a shadow foreign minister, with the role of top diplomat currently held by Netanyahu himself.

Tuesday’s announcement could mark a new emphasis on economic “bread and butter” issues for Israelis up and down the country.

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