As splits emerge in parties on both the left and right, the centrist Yesh Atid began to strengthen its electoral list this week ahead of the April elections, announcing Tuesday that the first woman to be appointed an IDF major general, Orna Barbivai, would be joining the party.
With high-level military a figures often considered an asset in Israeli politics, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid promised that Barbivai, who served for 33 years in the Israel Defense Forces and reached its second highest rank, would be given a prominent role within the party and serve as a senior minister in the government he hopes to lead.
“Orna is joining the leadership of the best team in Israeli politics. The team with which we can win the elections. The team with which, the day after the elections, we can start to run this country not for the benefit of politicians but for the benefit of our children,” Lapid said at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
The 56-year-old Barbivai was the head of 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 ground-breaking achievements, she was chosen in 2014 to light an Independence Day torch, considered one of Israel’s highest honors.
Lapid said Barbivai had led “a life full of contributions to our security and our society. A life full of values, of giving and of leadership.”
Speaking alongside Lapid, Barbivai said that her experience in the army gave her first-hand knowledge of “security and societal challenges in our incredible country” as well as an ability to “provide both system-wide and pinpoint solutions in a changing reality.”
Barbivai is seen as a replacement for Yesh Atid’s previous high-profile security figure, former Shin Bet security service head Yaakov Peri, who served as public security minister when Yesh Atid was in government from 2013-2015 but resigned from the party and the Knesset earlier this year amid reports that he had lied about his own IDF service.
With no party primaries in Yesh Atid, as opposed to other mainstream parties who will hold internal elections in February, Lapid has full control over his party list and the placement of candidates on it.
Barbivai said that her decision to enter politics “comes from a total belief in the good that Israel represents for me and from an understanding that we can, and we must, change the national agenda and act in the interests of all the citizens of Israel.”
With fierce competition between parties for new “acquisitions” ahead of the election, Barbivai said she had chosen to join Yesh Atid because on an “identification with the values of the party and my respect for its experienced team of women and men who do their work with professionalism and responsibility.”
“I believe in the ability of Yair Lapid to provide an alternative to the current government and to lead us, as prime minister of Israel,” she added.
While Lapid has repeatedly said that he can challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership, recent polls have shows Yesh Atid, which currently has 11 Knesset seats, slipping away from the Likud who still hold a considerable lead over all other parties.
Television polls published Wednesday by Hadashot news and the Kan public broadcaster gave Likud 31 and 28 seats respectively, with Yesh Atid winning just 13 and 10 seats. Last week a Kan poll gave Yesh Atid 16 seats, while Hadashot gave the party 12.
An alliance with former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who this week announced the launch of his Israel Resilience party, could however nip at the Likud’s heels. If Gantz’s party were to join with a Yesh Atid, the united party led by Lapid would win 26 seats, according to the poll published last week by the Walla news site.
Wednesday’s Hadashot gave Gantz 12 seats on his own while Kan gave him 14.
Lapid has said he would welcome a partnership with Gantz but has ruled out any political union in which he was not a candidate for prime minister.