Yesh Atid top 30'This is what an alternative to government looks like'

Lapid unveils Yesh Atid list, says unity with Gantz still ‘on the table’

Centrist leader gives prominent spots to army’s first-ever female major general Orna Barbivai, ex-Mossad deputy Ram Ben-Barak

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Yesh Atid party leader unveils his Yesh Atid party's slate ahead of April's national elections on February 18, 2019 (Adrian Sebal)
Yesh Atid party leader unveils his Yesh Atid party's slate ahead of April's national elections on February 18, 2019 (Adrian Sebal)

Signaling a new stage of its election campaign ahead of April’s national ballot, the centrist Yesh Atid party released its official slate for the Knesset on Monday, placing several high-profile new recruits near the top of the list in a hope to garner fresh support.

Top among the fresh candidates is the first and only woman to be appointed an IDF major general, Orna Barbivai, who was placed fourth behind party leader Yair Lapid in the top spot and stalwart lawmakers Meir Cohen and Ofer Shelah behind him.

Barbivai, 56, headed the IDF’s Human Resources Directorate from 2011 to 2014, becoming the first woman to serve in the IDF General Staff. In recognition of her groundbreaking achievements, she was chosen in 2014 to light an Independence Day torch, considered one of Israel’s highest honors.

The next new candidate on the slate is Ram Ben-Barak, the former deputy director of the Shin Bet security agency, who made it to number 11.

Born and raised in Nahalal, Ben-Barak served for five years in the IDF’s famed Sayeret Matkal special forces unit. He then joined the Mossad, where he worked for 27 years, including as the agency’s deputy director between 2009 and 2011. He has since served in several key posts, including as director-general of the Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Ministry.

The next new face after Ben-Barak is Yoav Segalovitz, the former head of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-fraud unit.

Segalovich is one of the founders of Lahav, which is responsible for leading corruption investigations against major public figures in Israel, as well as the former head of the general financial crimes unit. He spent a total of 30 years in the police force. His addition to the Yesh Atid list is seen as a dig at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing three corruption cases, led by Lahav 433, in which he is accused of bribery.

Number 14 on the slate is Idan Roll, an attorney, ex-model and LGBT rights activist, partner of popular singer Harel Skaat. The two have one son, born in August 2018, via a surrogate mother in the United States. Roll last year founded an LGBT activist group, and was the head of Yesh Atid’s LGBT branch.

Last week, along with announcing that Roll was joining the party, Yesh Atid released a detailed policy plan on promoting equality for the LGBT community in Israel, saying it would allocate NIS 50 million ($13.8 million) to fund local groups, outlaw “conversion therapy” for minors, and introduce mandatory school studies on the matter.

One recent high-profile recruit to the party not to appear on the list is former Golan regional head Eli Malka. A party source told The Times of Israel that Malka decided to drop out after being offered the 11th spot on the slate. He had demanded to be in the top five, according to the source.

Many of the top spots on the party list were given to incumbent Yesh Atid lawmakers, with MK Pnina Tamano-Shata moving up from 13 to 10. Boaz Toporovsky, who served as a Yesh Atid MK from 2013 to 2015, but failed to enter the Knesset after the last elections, took Tamano-Shata’s spot at 13.

Members of Yesh Atid are seen onstage at an event in Kibbutz Shefayim where the party unveiled its list of candidates for upcoming Knesset elections, on February 8, 2019. (Adrian Sebal)

Announcing the slate at a celebratory event at Kibbutz Shefayim north of Tel Aviv on Monday, Lapid said his ticket was the strongest of all the parties running.

“This is what an alternative to government looks like,” he said, standing next to the top 30 candidates.

“We have everything – experience, knowledge, work plans, cohesion, leadership. Give us the keys and tomorrow morning we will know how to manage the country,” he said to the cheers of the 500 party activists who filled the kibbutz auditorium.

Hinting at recent polls that place Yesh Atid far short of Netanyahu’s Likud party and behind Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, Lapid vowed, “It can still happen,” referring to his stated goal of becoming prime minister.

“In these elections anything can happen. These elections are entirely unpredictable,” Lapid said. “Netanyahu has lost control. He is only interested in his investigations. For him, these elections are a get-out-of-jail card. He has no boundaries. He has no problem lying. He has no problem smearing people… It’s hard to believe that a prime minister in Israel behaves this way.”

Referring to the possibility of a merger deal with Israel Resilience, the only possible move that polls suggest could make Yesh Atid into a real contender, Lapid said a deal is still possible, but looks unlikely.

Benny Gantz, head of the Israel Resilience party, speaks at an event to open his election campaign in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

“The option is on the table. I won’t take it off the table until the last moment. We will leave no stone unturned,” he said, with just three days remaining until a merger must be finalized.

But Lapid said the two parties had not yet come to an agreement on key policy issues.

“At this stage, and there isn’t much time left, I haven’t been given the answers. Yesh Atid is not a vehicle to pick up Knesset seats. It is a movement with a clear vision. We’re here because we made a promise to make changes to Israel. Our aim is to build a party that will serve as an alternative. The aim is to win,” Lapid said. “But a party has to have an agenda. I can’t believe I even have to explain this – there is no such thing as a party without a clear agenda. You can’t go to elections if people don’t know what you stand for. ”

Lapid is said to have offered Gantz a political merger that would see the two leaders alternating as chair of their alliance, Channel 12 reported on Saturday.

The Israel Resilience party declined to comment on the report Saturday. Yesh Atid said vaguely that negotiations are conducted face-to-face “and anyone who claims to know what is being said is wrong and misleading.”

According to Saturday’s TV report, Yesh Atid believes the leadership “rotation” offer is generous, but Israel Resilience is not sold on the idea, as polls have shown that Gantz’s party would gain twice as many seats in the Knesset as Yesh Atid. Recent surveys have put Gantz’s Israel Resilience at about 22 seats, with Yesh Atid at around 11 seats.

Yesh Atid’s list of its top 30 candidates for Knesset elections on April 9, 2019:

1. Yair Lapid
2. Meir Cohen
3. Ofer Shelah
4. Orna Barbivai
5. Yael German
6. Karine Elharrar
7. Yoel Razvozov
8. Mickey Levy
9. Elazar Stern
10. Pnina Tamano-Shata
11. Ram Ben Barak
12. Yoav Segalovitz
13. Boaz Toporovsky
14. Idan Roll
15. Yorai Lahav Hertzanu
16. Aliza Lavie
17. Tehila Friedman-Nachalon
18. Moshe (Kinley) Tur Paz
19. Zehorit Sorek
20. Anat Knafo
21. Deborah Biton
22. Vladimir Beliak
23. Ifat Ben Shushan
24. Ofra Finkelshtain
25. Naor Shiri
26. Oz Haim
27. Inbar Bezek
28. Yaron Levi
29. Nira Shpak
30. Ronit Yovel

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