I went to a Yesh Atid meeting in Ra’anana last night, taking the opportunity to hear Yair Lapid speak about the forthcoming election.
For reasons I don’t fully understand (or remember) I expected a speech in English. Wrong! It was definitely a Hebrew presentation for a Hebrew speaking audience. So, I wasn’t able to understand as much of it as I would like, but enough to get the grist of what he was talking about.
He spent a lot of time talking about corruption – both the traditional type and the systemic type. The traditional type is well known and understood. The systemic type can be illustrated by the former practice of the government to have ministers without portfolio. Such ministers, said Lapid, had a title, an office, a driver, an extra salary, and lots of benefits. The one thing they did not have was work! In short, it was money for nothing. The people taking these posts were doing no legal wrong, but they were practicing systemic corruption: corruption built in to the system that rewards people for nothing, and does nothing for the sake of the country. Lapid put an end to that. (Though I think it could return if other parties have their way.) There are lots of similar situations where there is a waste of money in the system, for no good reason. It has to be tackled.
He also spoke about the achievements of the party in the short time they were part of the government. This is a crucial message he has to get across – see this Times of Israel analysis for background – to maintain a reasonable presence in the new Knesset. He is saying: we did a lot in a short time. We have said what else we want to do. Support us to get that change. That’s what the election is a fight for – change in the country.
Indeed, that’s what the handouts focused on.
Lapid spoke for over an hour without a single note. He had an impressive mastery of the facts, events, and numbers, suggesting that he was unjustly underrated in advance of taking the poison chalice of the role of Finance Minister. He gets the numbers. He knows what they mean to the country.
He is not interested in getting in to power and taking it easy. He wants to achieve as many of the campaign goals as possible. And he won’t be sucked in, he says, to the old ways. For example, he spoke about being invited to one mini-cabinet meeting that was an attempt to force him to award a huge chunk of money from the budget for a settlement project. Of course that expenditure wasn’t in the budget, and nobody had approved it. He stood his ground. He listed several other, much more important infrastructure items that the state should spend the money on.
He is a lovely speaker – easy to listen to, with great diction and delivery. And there were enough funny asides to keep people awake. For example, he said that part of his duties were to carry a particular phone with him, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If he received a call on that phone, he had to answer it. Although he didn’t say, presumably that was for top secret stuff and other high level matters of state. One day, he is out with his daughter having coffee and the phone goes off. He answers it. It’s Bibi. It’s Bibi calling to sack him from the government!
After the speech, he took questions. The audience members were not all Lapid worshipers, but not once did he stumble. He handled the questions well and seemed to give full, frank, and direct answers. Not all answers were well received by the person asking the question, but he kept a lid on matters where tempers threatened to get out of control.
When he said that one thing he was definitely working on was for the new Knesset not to have Bibi as its leader, that seemed to merit universal approval.
From the party website, it appears that he is putting on these one night shows at an incredible rate. He is certainly working hard.
The more I see and hear of Lapid, the more I like and trust him. I have more in common with Lapid and Yesh Atid than any of the other parties, but I’ll keep listening, and paying attention to what is going on in the world of Israeli politics, right up to the election. After all, there’s plenty of time for things to change. And who knows what shape that change might take.
Final notes and pictures
I would have guessed there were around 600 people at the event. The official figure is 700, so not a bad guess. And you can see pictures at the Facebook page, here. (Yes, Susan and I are in the pictures…)