A friend of mine, who went down to a kiosk on Friday evening to buy a Coke, witnessed the following conversation between a customer and a salesgirl.
Customer: "How much for a pack of cigarettes?"
Salesgirl: "Thirty-two shekels."
Customer: "Why is it so expensive, because of Shabbat?"
Salesgirl: "No, because of Lapid."
Who was the salesgirl, I asked my friend.
"Just a 20-year-old girl," he said. "What does she know about Lapid? Nevertheless, it sticks."
The truth is that Lapid has taken too much upon himself. When the previous government dug a deep hole in the budget, he went from home to home, from auditorium to auditorium, and delivered lovely speeches about new politics. He had no idea.
When he launched negotiations to enter the coalition the day after the elections, he was busy asking himself who would be included in the new government and who would be excluded and what part would he have in it. He had doubts, but there is no evidence that his doubts had anything to do with the deficit. The overall feeling was that he and Bennett, two political novices, were showing Netanyahu how things should be done; dictating things to him; humiliating him.
It was such a great celebration, that neither of them noticed the package Netanyahu had left by their door.
It was not Lapid who came up with the austerity measures included in the new budget. The moment the deficit target – a term expressing a desire, not a scientific fact – was set, the mission was handed over to the Treasury officials. They put on the table a pile of taxes and cuts, kindheartedly or wickedly. In this raffle, (almost) every number won.
Identifying the situation created and its results with Yair Lapid, therefore, is somewhat exaggerated, disproportionate. Lapid is familiar with this distortion from his work in television: Many reporters, editors and producers work to prepare the Friday evening edition – and in the end, people only remember the presenter's name.
What would Lapid advise finance minister?There is no room for expectations that a person, as talented as he may be, will learn economics overnight. The surprising thing is the mistakes Lapid is making in areas he is supposed to understand much more about, areas he excels in. In his first press conference as finance minister, an event which under the circumstances became constitutive, Lapid decided to stand alongside Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini. Lapid the media wizard would never advise a friend to do such a thing, especially not when large parts of the public feel, rightfully, that Eini took him for a ride, a ride they are slated to pay for through austerity measures.
Lapid the media wizard would never advise a friend to impose a huge, infuriating, package of measures, and then start giving up on the measures irking pressure groups. He would definitely not suggest that his friend explain there is no other choice, that the hole must be plugged, and then withdraw from the decisions made without explaining what he plans to do to plug the hole he recreated.
Lapid began his tenure in an ugly quarrel with senior Treasury officials, who tried to reach an agreement with the student leaders. Lapid the media wizard should have explained to him that the officials' revenge was impending: In the press conference Lapid held last week, the first rows were filled with Histadrut activists. The Treasury officials watched the event from the side, beyond the range of the cameras.
Lapid would never advise his friend, the finance minister, to zigzag this way, from sticks to carrots, from overly optimistic visions, Netanyahu-style, to overly dark predictions, Netanyahu-style too. He should stop to breathe.
The Yesh Atid faction has 19 Knesset seats. At this stage, all faction members are grateful, obedient, aspiring to please their leader. This power is significant. The danger is that within quite a short time, Lapid will experience what happened to Tzipi Livni in Kadima and Ehud Barak in the Independence Party – they had Knesset seats, but no voters. Without voters, Barak became Netanyahu's hostage. He lost the option to quit and go to elections, and became a government worker serving a policy he didn't fully agree with.
This is the real danger Lapid is facing: Even before he learns the names of the Budget Department workers, he will be castrated for good. There is no reason to gloat. When Lapid falls, so will the small chance that we'll ever have an alternative here.