In pitch to undecided voters, Lapid urges them not to back small parties

Yesh Atid leader makes exception for Meretz, declines to declare himself a PM candidate; warns Netanyahu will form ‘racist, homophobic’ government if elected

Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid give a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2021. (Tal Schnider/Times of Israel)
Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid give a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2021. (Tal Schnider/Times of Israel)

Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid on Tuesday urged undecided voters not to give their support to small political parties in next week’s election, warning that only a large party can block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a “racist, homophobic, extortionist government.”

Speaking at a press conference, Lapid avoided declaring himself as the candidate for prime minister of the left-wing bloc, despite polling predictions that his party would be the second-largest — behind Netanyahu’s Likud — and having the backing of at least two other parties also seeking to oust Netanyahu.

“If you want to make a big change, you need a big party to do it,” Lapid said, estimating that at least 10 of the Knesset’s 120 seats could be determined by currently undecided voters.

Larger parties across the political spectrum worry that votes for their bloc will be lost on smaller parties who don’t clear the electoral threshold. Currently, four parties are hovering around the threshold: left-wing Meretz, centrist Blue and White, Islamist Ra’am, and far-right Religious Zionism.

Composite photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ramla on August 4, 2020, Yair Lapid at the Knesset on May 17, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90, Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“There is still an unprecedented number of people who are undecided,” Lapid said. “They need to know, if they don’t vote for Yesh Atid then we will get a dark, racist, homophobic, extortionist government.”

“Netanyahu will be hostage to extortionists and extremists,” he warned.

Lapid was referring to Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox political allies and a deal orchestrated by the premier between the right-wing Religious Zionism and the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party for a joint run that recent polls have predicted will see the alliance pass the Knesset electoral threshold. Netanyahu hopes to thus avoid a loss of right-wing votes and bolster his chances of forming a government after the election.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, Lapid declared that the dovish left-wing Meretz party, which in television polls is hovering around the Knesset threshold, is still a cause worth voting for.

“I respect the parties in our bloc that have ideology and principles,” he said. “They’ll be important partners. If someone wants to vote Meretz, they should vote Meretz. It’s important that they cross the threshold.”

Though he was careful to not say he is running for prime minister, as Netanyahu has asserted is the case, Lapid vowed to not allow Netanyahu to “turn this election into a personal and ugly fight between him and me.”

Lapid also did not rule out two other right-wing parties, New Hope and Yamina, joining a coalition led by him, even though both party’s leaders, Gideon Sa’ar and MK Naftali Bennett, have declared they will not serve under a Lapid premiership.

“I advise my friends to not say things that they afterward can’t keep to,” Lapid said.

Naftali Bennett (L) and Gideon Sa’ar (R) attend Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 17, 2015. (Flash90)

Meretz congratulated Lapid on his remarks, saying he showed “maturity and leadership.”

Both Meretz and the center-left Labor party have said that they will back Lapid for prime minister.

After refraining from saying so outright last week, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz told Channel 12 news on Monday that he was prepared to back Lapid — his former political partner turned rival — as prime minister. However, he qualified the statement, saying he would back any candidate who was able to prove after the election that he has enough support to form a coalition that will replace Netanyahu — be it Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett or New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar.

Lapid still faces an uphill battle, polling at roughly 20 seats compared to Likud’s nearly 30. Even if the anti-Netanyahu bloc wins a majority of seats, the Yesh Atid chairman will face a difficult time convincing parties as left-wing as Meretz and as right-wing as Naftali Bennett’s Yamina to sit in the same coalition.

Israelis on March 23 will vote in the fourth election in two years with polls predicting that a political deadlock that forced the repeated elections is likely to continue.

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