'Facebook minister' learns politics in Israel are scary

Thursday, April 11, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

When he first announced his intention to form a party and run for Knesset, popular television personality Yair Lapid was hailed far and wide as a kingslayer for being most capable of unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When it became clear Lapid would join Netanyahu's new govrnment, he was instead held aloft as a kingmaker, because without Lapid's Yesh Atid party, Netanyahu would not have a stable coalition.

Now that it has come to actually governing the nation, Lapid is being mercilessly attacked as the "Facebook minister" due to his preference to respond to criticism of his work as minister of finance via social media, rather than at the Knesset itself.

Earlier this week, it was leaked that Lapid was planning major budget cuts, in particular an education cutback that would result in a rise in university tuition. The Knesset called a special meeting on the topic and the harsh criticism was leveled at Lapid.

But, Lapid wasn't there. Although, it was clear the finance minister was watching the meeting on television, because one hour in, he responded on his Facebook page, insisting he had approved no cuts that would harm university students.

His fellow MKs were shocked at Lapid's decision to respond from afar.

"The finance minister had time to write on Facebook instead of coming to the Knesset and answering the opposition’s questions in a respectful manner?" opposition leader Yacimovich asked incredulously. "We have reached a new low."

Israeli media expert Yossi Aloni told Israel Today that the general assessment is that "Lapid is afraid that journalists would bombard him with questions he could not answer. After all, the man lacks knowledge and experience in economics."

Nevertheless, Lapid's decision to respond via Facebook was troubling and strange, considering that it isolated a large portion of the public that does not use social media.

Once a darling of both the Israeli media and the public, Lapid has quickly learned that politics in Israel is a scary business, and those who lavished praise upon you one day will be out for blood the next.

Lapid's ordeal is a good, if not exaggerated, example of the tremendous pressures that await anyone wishing to enter Israel's halls of power, and how those pressures can bring even the mightiest figures low.

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