The Other Big Israeli Election Story: The Other Yair
The Israeli election news that has captured the moment is the surprising success of Yair Lapid's new party, Yesh Atid (There's a Future), and the fact that it will now have the second-largest number of seats in the Knesset. What may be more interesting in the long term is the story missed by reporters and pundits: the story of the other Yair. Yair Shamir, the 67-year-old son of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, will serve in the next Knesset and will stridently oppose pressure from the Obama administration.
Both Yair Lapid and Yair Shamir will be entering the Knesset for the first time, and the similarities do not end there. Both have accomplished much professionally outside politics: Shamir as an executive in many top companies and Lapid as a TV journalist. Lapid and Shamir are both secular. Both men are loyal to the ideas of their fathers. Both chose to enter politics through smaller parties. Lapid built his own party, and Shamir chose to join Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party. Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) ran on a joint list with Likud, and now Shamir is entering Knesset as a leading member of the largest party.
Lieberman has serious legal worries to look forward to in 2013.
The political future of Lieberman looks in doubt, and the viability of Yisrael Beiteinu as a party focused on immigrant interests and voters seems rather unlikely.
The immigrants from the former Soviet Union are more and more integrated into Israeli culture, business, and political life than anyone could have predicted twenty years ago.
Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid no doubt appealed to many immigrants. It is a secular party. Tommy Lapid, Yair's father, also led a secular party called Shinui (Change). The New York Times, in commenting on Yair Lapid, defined him as "a telegenic celebrity whose father made a splash with his own short-lived centrist party a decade ago."
And "short-lived" may prove to describe Yair Lapid's political career as well. Yair Lapid is something of a kingmaker today, but his future is beyond that looks somewhat bleak.
So where does all this leave Yair Shamir?
If Lieberman is forced from the Knesset, Shamir will in all likelihood become the Yisrael Beiteinu party's leader. He was fourth on the joint Yisrael Beiteinu/Likud list. Shamir is a former colonel who rose to prominence for his success in business. He had a series of high-level executive roles in some of Israel's top-performing corporations and was a top player in Israel's hi-tech scene. For six years he was chairman of Israel Aerospace Industries.
Yair Shamir clearly has the gravitas to lead Yisrael Beiteinu. But what is more interesting is that he may have the skills needed to keep Bibi Netanyahu from allowing the Obama administration to set the agenda for Israel's future.
What's more is that Shamir will not be acting. Yisrael Beiteinu's Uzi Landau, most recently Israel's minister of national infrastructure, was seventh on the joint Yisrael Beiteinu/Likud list, and his views on the Israeli settlements are well-known: protect them and develop them. The word reporters use most to describe Landau is "hardline."
Shamir's father was a commander of Israel's LEHI (Stern Group) pre-state militia and Likud leader. Landau's father, Chaim, was a leading member of the Irgun, the other rightist pre-state militia and a founder of the Herut party, the forerunner of the Likud. Chaim Landau was a Knesset member from 1949 to 1977 and served as a cabinet minister with Yitzhak Shamir under Menachem Begin. At 69 and having been in Knesset since 1984, Uzi Landau may provide Yair Shamir all the help he needs to keep Netanyahu loyal to the ideas that all of their fathers shared.
"True leadership understands that saying no and standing up against pressure is vital to attain strategic goals while surrender and acquiescence only leads to abandonment of these goals," wrote Yair Shamir in September 2009. The article was titled "Say 'no' to Obama." This attitude may prove Yair Shamir's election to Knesset to be of more importance to Israel's future than Yair Lapid's can ever be.
Moshe Phillips is the president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI). The chapter's blog can be found at http://phillyafsi.blogtownhall.com, and Moshe tweets at http://twitter.com/MoshePhillips.