TEL AVIV — Here at the centrist Yesh Atid’s election night gathering in Sokolov late on Tuesday night, there was laughter, enthusiasm, plenty of cheers, some tears and also a fair amount of shock — and that was before the TV exit polls were published at 10 p.m.
For hours, the buzz had been that Yair Lapid’s new faction was going to do well — first that it was battling the hard-line Jewish Home for the title of second-largest Knesset party, and then that it was easily in second place to Likud-Beytenu and heading for up to 20 seats.
And then came the TV polls, predicting 18 or 19 seats. “We did it!” the crowd yelled.
All of the party’s new MKs are fresh to the political scene, but if Yesh Atid’s performance came as a surprise, people here said it shouldn’t have. The team — a broad coalition that includes community activists and educators, Ethiopians, Russian-speakers, women, and rabbis — may be new on the block but, Yesh Atid members said, that’s a good thing, and the voters clearly thought so too.
“It’s time for new people, for fresh faces, and we’re very excited about it,” said Rabbi Dov Lipman, an influential religious leader who’s originally from the US, works toward ultra-Orthodox participation in the workforce and will be entering the Knesset as Yesh Atid’s No.17. “It’s an honor to be part of such a special group of people. We’re brothers and sisters, we love each other. That unity is part of our success. I think people in Israel need to realize that we can work best by working together, not pulling ourselves apart.”
Lipman also said the rise of Yesh Atid is a good thing for the Anglo-Saxon community in Israel. “To have come here eight years ago and to be, hopefully, on the verge of being an MK is very exciting,” he said, tearing wetting his eyes. “There’s also a sense of responsibility. I want to represent that community and give them the representation they haven’t had.”
Another achievement for Yesh Atid is that it’s set to bring to the Knesset the first Ethiopian female MK, attorney Penina Tamnu-Shata.
“My parents are going to be so proud!” said the party’s No. 14, bubbling with enthusiasm. “Coming from Ethiopia, this has been a very long road — there were many moments that were trying and wore me down. But it was always important to be in a place where I could change things.”
In the Knesset, she said she hopes to be a role model for the youngsters in her community, working on social justice issues. “I plan on there being many more politicians from my community.” She smiled broadly.
A common theme heard around the room was that Yesh Atid managed to bring the middle class and its concerns — housing, education, and healthcare — back to the center of the agenda. Yifat Kariv, a prominent women’s rights activist who, as the list’s No. 16, is also set to enter the Knesset, put it this way: “We returned the nation to the center, to its people. The nation spoke tonight by choosing us, and it’s really an exciting feeling.”
Arriving at Beit Sokolov after midnight, Lapid was rapturously received, obviously. In his speech, he evoked his father, former minister and journalist Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, and what he said was his father’s devotion to his constituents. “Tonight, I understand him, and that sense of responsibility.”
To roars from the crowd, he went on: “During the entire campaign season, the one sentence I heard repeated all across Israel, from Metula to Eilat, was, “Don’t forget us when you’re elected. Don’t be like all those [politicians] who once they were chosen, forget about us.’ Now, we’ve been chosen, and we didn’t forget. I won’t forget. I will not forget.” Cue massive cheering.
He gave every indication of readiness to join a Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition, but only if it is a broad one.
Those who voted for Yesh Atid, Lapid said, “voted for the sake of normalcy, for trust between people, for the right to education and housing.” And those demands had to be met “together,” he added. “Today the people chose to say no to the politics of hatred and fear. They said no to extremism. Look at the Yesh Atid list, we have people who are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Orthodox, secular, those from the center and from the periphery, men, and many, many women.”
“What is good for Israel doesn’t belong on the right or on the left, but in finding something in the center, something that is just,” he continued. “With people who can listen to others, with those who can engage in dialogue, who remember that we are not here at the expense of one another, but that we are here with one another.”
The applause was deafening. “Yesh Atid, banu leshanot!” the crowd chanted. There is a future, we’ve come to achieve change.