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Senior Blue and White source: ‘Lapid is standing between us and winning’

In harsh rebuke exposing ongoing rift, leaders of centrist party say Yesh Atid chair is ‘derailing’ its election campaign and chances of unseating Netanyahu

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Blue and White party leaders, from left to right: Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi. Tel Aviv, March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White party leaders, from left to right: Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi. Tel Aviv, March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Exposing an ongoing rift within the top brass of Blue and White, senior leaders in the centrist union delivered a sharp rebuke Tuesday to party number two Yair Lapid, saying that his recent efforts to target the ultra-Orthodox are damaging the campaign and that he was personally “standing between us and winning the election.”

On Sunday, Lapid posted a spot that poked fun at the Likud party for forcing its candidates in the upcoming elections to sign a loyalty pledge backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It portrayed a fictional group chat in the popular messaging service WhatsApp, in which leaders of several small parties are asked to swear to support the candidacy of “Benjamin Netanyahu, the first of his name, messenger of God, leader of the right and father of dragons.”

In the video, Shas chairman Aryeh Deri responds by saying, “You want me to sign? Give another trillion shekels for the yeshivas” while United Torah Judaism chairman Yaakov Litzman says, “I want all the money in Israel.”

On Monday, Blue and White chief Gantz offered implicit criticism of Lapid, his partner and deputy in the party leadership, tweeting: “The strength of Israeli society comes from its unity, including all sectors — secular and religious, Jews and non-Jews, left and right. That is the appropriate way for Israel’s leadership to behave at this time.”

On Tuesday, leaders within the party went further and explicitly attacked Lapid.

“Lapid’s remarks are destroying our campaign,” one senior Blue and White member told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language site. “I’m not talking about how the Haredim feel. It was clear that they would go on a ‘gevalt’ campaign after Lapid’s remarks. I am only talking about us.”

In Israeli political parlance, “gevalt” campaigns are all-out scare campaigns, employed to spook and rally voters against a perceived threat. Netanyahu has used the tactic effectively in the final days of the last two elections to boost his Likud party’s showing by several seats at the expense of other right-wing parties. In April, Blue and White similarly managed to sway tens of thousands of center-left voters in the eleventh hour.

Yair Lapid of the Blue and White party, in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“We have a clear stance — it’s either Gantz or Netanyahu,” the senior member continued. “Everything about us is Netanyahu and why we have to unseat him. We understood today from Lapid that he, too, was aiming in that direction and his post was meant to portray Netanyahu as weak and susceptible to pressure, but that’s not what came out. Lapid derailed the campaign and screwed up our strategy.

“After all, we don’t want to argue with anyone, just with Netanyahu,” the senior member continued. “This is ‘just not Bibi.’ Do you see us arguing with [Democratic Camp candidate] Ehud Barak or [Labor leader] Amir Peretz, or even the ultra-Orthodox? What is that good for?

“We are also not arguing with [Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor] Liberman,” he said. “What good would that do us? I hear the explanations that Lapid is attacking the ultra-Orthodox to get back the votes Liberman is taking from us. What is he taking from us? A single seat? Barak is taking more. Is this worth all the turmoil?”

The developing rift within the top ranks of Blue and White was first reported by Zman Yisrael in May, before the current elections were on the table. The rift began back then due to a series of statements by Lapid against the ultra-Orthodox, their money-making abilities, the Chief Rabbinate and the treatment of Reform Jews.

Blue and White’s Moshe Ya’alon is seen during a visit to the Gaza border area with other members of the party on March 13, 2019. (Flash90)

In addition, Zman Yisrael revealed internal discussions within Blue and White on the eve of the April elections, and the objection to merging Lapid’s Yesh Atid party into the union of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party.

The objections were led back then by Gantz’s strategic adviser, Ronen Tzur — who has since been fired by Lapid — though MK Chili Tropper, a Gantz confidant, held a similar opinion.

Neither has criticism of the rotation agreement, by which if Blue and White wins the elections, party leader Gantz will be premier for 2.5 years followed by Lapid for 1.5 years, subsided for a moment. The party’s number 3, Ya’alon, has already been quoted as saying that “the rotation between Gantz and Lapid is harming us. It would be better for Lapid to back down.” There is no reason to assume he has changed his mind.

On Tuesday, a senior Blue and White source made unequivocal remarks to Zman Yisrael about the loaded issue.

“This is not an easy thing to say, but Yair Lapid is standing between us and victory in the elections. Had he given up the rotation, there would have been a massive current of traditional voters from all parties toward us,” he said. “I wish there were a chance of that happening, but sadly it is off the table.”

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