Lapid forbids party members to partake in Geneva educational tour

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
26.02.2013
 
Concerned for his party's political alliance with Naftali Bennett's right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid has ordered more than 10 Knesset members from his party to cancel a Jerusalem-area tour with the left-wing Geneva Initiative organization.
 
Lapid's veto of the MKs' participation shows just how much he fears harming the alliance with Bennett - to preserve the bloc with Habayit Hayehudi, Lapid didn't hesitate to delegitimize a left-wing Zionist organization. Lapid's order is especially puzzling in light of the fact that only a week earlier, Shas MKs took a similar tour with the Geneva Initiative organization, which promotes a two-state solution with Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. A few weeks prior to this, an identical tour took place with several dozen senior Likud members.
 
But even more puzzling is the fact that none of the Yesh Atid MKs dared to stick to their guns or to argue with the party chairman. Even MKs such as former Shin Bet security service chief Jacob Perry and former Dimona mayor Meir Cohen, as well as former Herzliya mayor Yael German - who in the past participated in activities held by the Geneva Initiative and expressed support for its positions - conformed to Lapid's order.
Yesh Atid party member, Yael German, speaking at a Geneva Initiative conference in December 
 
 
The issue arose a week and a half ago, when MK Moshe Mizrahi (Labor ) sent an invitation to all MKs to participate in an educational tour in the area around Jerusalem held by the organization. The tour guide was Col. (ret. ) Shaul Arieli, one of the most prominent experts in Israel on the political geography of Jerusalem and the West Bank. About 18 MKs registered for the tour, with more than 10 of them coming from Yesh Atid.
 
The tour was due to take place last Sunday, but two days beforehand a Yesh Atid MK approached Mizrahi in the Knesset and told him that he had to cancel his participation in the tour due to an urgent meeting. After a few minutes, another Yesh Atid MK also told Mizrahi he couldn't make it, giving a similar excuse.
 
As the minutes ticked by, the trickle of cancellations became a flowing stream - each MK with his own excuse. Mizrahi tried to save the tour, explaining that the event was an educational rather than political event, and that he had received confirmation of this from the Knesset secretariat. "I only want those who talk about Jerusalem to know what they're talking about," Mizrahi told the Yesh Atid MKs who begged off.
 
However, his pleas fell on deaf ears, and eventually all the Yesh Atid MKs who had registered for the tour cancelled. Mizrahi was forced to inform the Geneva Initiative that he was canceling the event.
 
MKs involved in the affair and sources at the Geneva Initiative who had been apprised of the situation said the reason for the sudden mass cancellation was a direct order from Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. Party MKs who were due to join the tour had casually informed him of the event at a meeting of the faction.
 
When he heard the news, Lapid jumped up as if he had snake-bitten, and explained to the MKs that he did not want them taking part in an activity held by a left-wing organization such as the Geneva Initiative. Lapid implied that the reason for this was his unwillingness to harm his political alliance with Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi.
 
"At the present time of coalition negotiations, we cannot join a tour with an organization that supports dividing Jerusalem," Lapid told his party's members. "After all, we are against dividing Jerusalem."
 
Yesh Atid's Knesset spokesperson, Tomer Cohen, said in response: "Yesh Atid will participate in a tour such as this one and others, at a convenient time for it. It should be noted that the number of party members that postponed their participation in this tour is much smaller than reported."
 
Cohen, however, did not state how many MKs cancelled their participation in the tour and did not deny the reason for the cancellation. However, he added: "Please publish this response verbatim, and in full."