When he wasn't on his talk show asking guests what they felt best symbolized Israel, Yair Lapid could be found in the marquee position in the nation's top-selling newspaper. His weekly column for Yediot Aharonot had pride of place in the fat weekend edition. Sometimes it was a platform for holding forth on current events, sometimes for ruminating on a personal life as public as any in Israel. "I'd like to know that my life has meaning," Lapid meditated in his column years ago, "to write one novel like The Old Man and the Sea, to win an election campaign that I had no chance of winning ..."
Lapid did not quite win Israel's Jan. 22 election; the 19 parliamentary seats that went to his Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party was good enough for only second. But the way Yesh Atid finished--scooping up almost every undecided voter in the final three days--brought such a rousing conclusion to the contest that everyone else kind of seemed to lose. Heavily favored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended up personally controlling just one more seat than Lapid. Netanyahu had combined forces with the party of ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, who controls 11 of the 31 seats they won together. (Lieberman stepped down as Foreign Minister in the early days of the campaign after being indicted on charges of fraud.) Farther back, tied for fourth, was Naftali Bennett, the right-wing newcomer whose earlier surge had provided the only compelling narrative in a campaign so bereft of overarching themes that one pundit dubbed it the Seinfeld election, after the show about nothing.
Election day brought meaning. Turnout, at 68%, was the highest in nine years, and the message the voters sent was clear: the audience Netanyahu played to in his campaign--the religious ideologues in West Bank settlements, right-wing activists accustomed to setting the agenda--was not to be confused with Middle Israel, the quiet but still beating heart of an electorate firmly planted in the center. To deliver the correction, the middle chose Lapid, 49, a political novice but a reassuring presence with a broadcaster's talent for listening, processing and repeating the concerns of his audience in terms that seem to elevate all.
"What is good for Israel is not in the possession of the right, and nor is it in the possession of the left," Lapid told ecstatic supporters after exit polls indicated his party had drawn nearly twice the support predicted. "It lies in the possibility of creating here a real and decent center that listens to the other, that knows how to engage in dialogue, that remembers that we are here together not one at the expense of one another but one with the other."