Next Prime Minister of Israel?

Yair Lapid, the next Prime Minister of Israel?

Last night, Susan and I went to a Yesh Atid (There is a Future) meeting (Anglo Division) in Tel Aviv to hear the party leader, Yair Lapid. He was introduced as the next Prime Minister of Israel which is – to put it mildly – somewhat optimistic. However, let there be no doubt, he is by far my preferred candidate. Why? Partly because I like the man, but mainly because I like how Yesh Atid handled itself the last time it was in power – sticking largely to its policy promises – and also, no less, because of the party’s policies. Their intentions for the country address all the key areas in the right way, so to speak. I was particularly pleased to hear Yair promise that one early law, were he successful, would be to limit the number of times one person could be the Prime Minister to twice. (Hello Bibi!)

Underpinning a lot of Yesh Atid’s policies is an honest streak that seems to be missing from the other parties. For example, when in power, Yesh Atid refused to take the money that all the other coalition parties took from the State, just for being in power. Shocking. For another example, within minutes of the election being called, the coalition parties robbed the welfare and education budgets to fund their own political expenditure. Also shocking. Another almost unbelievable story was the reminder that Bibi ordered a personal – OK, a Prime Ministerial – plane at a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels, for no good reason. (The theory is that Bibi felt envious at Air Force One…) A funny story was told about the ministerial vote on work programs. Only two ministers voted against it. Guess which two ministers were appointed to be in charge of the work programs? Welcome to Israel…

Before Yair could start, he was interrupted by a protester – demonstrating against weapons sales to Sudan – who had to be removed by the security team. It’s unclear why the protester targeted Yair Lapid, as the offending matters were not of his creation. Anyway, Yair spoke for about 45 minutes – in reasonably good English – and then took questions.

The questions ranged from aliyah to illegal immigrants to non-orthodoxy to gay rights to educations, pensions, and so on. His answers were OK, but the poor guy has clearly been running around with far too much to do. I say this because his English in the answers was not as sharp or polished as it can be. He had not had enough time to prepare fully, I suspect.  In this arena, he is not as good a performer as Bibi. But, he will improve, and it’s one area that – despite declarations to the contrary – matters least in the Israeli elections. In other words, the Anglos will not have a material effect on the result. That having been said, I was impressed and cheered by the very young profile of the audience. Very heartening. Anyway, for election success, it’s more important how he comes across in the Hebrew media. And there he is very much equal to the Bibi challenge.

What are his chances? In the past elections, Yesh Atid has typically done less well in the polls until the closing stages. That appears to be the case this time around, too. But it needs to do much better this time to break the Likud stranglehold, and so far there’s been no hint of such a change. Instead, the opposition keeps getting split by new parties popping up. So, when it does come to the election, Lapid as Prime Minister is unlikely. But, then again, in the world of Israeli politics, almost anything is possible. After all, this is a country where a new politician could be ranked as getting 20% plus of the vote before making a single speech or uttering a single word on policy or beliefs. So, unlikely, but not impossible.

I’m resigned to another Bibi/Likud victory, but let’s see what actually happens.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Centrist politician Yair Lapid has been attracting a considerable degree of heat and criticism from those on the left of the Israeli political spectrum, because of his explicit remarks denouncing the NGO, Breaking the Silence.

Ynet has an op-ed, from Ben-Dror Yemini on the matter:

Yair Lapid, the Israeli Left’s new enemy

Op-ed: The Yesh Atid leader dared to say what Herzog and Livni are afraid to say: That Breaking the Silence are spewing poison against Israel in the world. What exactly is wrong or inappropriate here?

Do read it all (here) but at least note the main thrust:

One should listen to what Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni have been saying in recent days. They are so kind as to utter a weak word of condemnation against Breaking the Silence, but immediately jump up to defend freedom of expression. As if that’s the point.

Why when it comes to a racist organization like Lehava, they will issue blatant condemnations, and rightfully so, without going on about freedom of expression. But when it comes to an organization cooperating with the BDS movement, which seeks to destroy Israel, they stand up to support freedom of expression. They fail to realize that by doing so, they are associating themselves with the radical left. Just like that, they are scaring off the one-third which returns to the Likud..

Lapid has decided that he’s had enough. He won’t recite Herzog and Livni’s clichés. When someone spits on him, on us, he won’t call it rain just because “journalists don’t like the center,” as Abramovich wrote. So what if they don’t like it? Is that what’s important? Only spineless people recite what the commissars in the media demand that they say.

Lapid hasn’t changed his political views by one iota. He is in favor of any peace initiative which has been rejected by the Palestinians in the past few decades. And a person who speaks in favor of the Saudi initiative isn’t fawning over anyone.

But, alas, he dared to say what Herzog and Livni are afraid to say: That Breaking the Silence are spewing poison against Israel in the world. And yes, it’s time to initiate a legislative move which will prevent funding from elements that are oiling the BDS campaign. What exactly is wrong or inappropriate here?

Following the recent elections, almost everyone in the Zionist Left, including politicians and journalists, declared on every stage that “there is a need for self-examination.” There were endless declarations, but no self-examination. But when one of the camp’s members really starts conducting a self-examination, they attack him.

Lapid was right to speak out, and the op-ed fairly represents my views on the matter. I don’t agree with everything Lapid or Yesh Atid so or say, but on this point I back his stance completely. Unfortunately, unless the moderate left wake up and realize what is happening, they will facilitate the return to power of Bibi and Likud. The moderate left have lost their way.

No, minister!

By way of follow up to my Yes, minister? post, here’s the almost inevitable outcome as reported by Times of Israel:

Deputy Health Minister Litzman to become full minister

In response to landmark court ruling, ultra-Orthodox lawmaker becomes the first to receive rabbis’ approval to enter cabinet

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party on Thursday said that he had received rabbinical approval to serve as health minister in the cabinet.

“I accept the decision by the Council of Torah Sages and have answered positively the request of the prime minister, and will thus soon serve as health minister,” he said.

His announcement came following a ruling by the High Court of Justice preventing deputy ministers from fulfilling the role of ministers. Litzman, while nominally a deputy minister, held a minister’s authority in the Health Ministry. Lawmakers from his party have previously avoided ministerial positions due to their community’s reluctance to grant full legitimacy to a secular Jewish state.

On Thursday, Litzman said that he “respects” the demand of the High Court of Justice that he become a minister, saying, “As far as I’m concerned there is no change in my position.

“I served and will continue to serve the citizens of Israel exactly as I did in the past. In my view, a deputy minister in the capacity of minister is a health minister in every respect,” he added.

The court’s decision to ban the practice of granting a minister’s authority to a deputy minister came following a petition by the Yesh Atid party, which held the health ministership in the previous coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The petition demanded that the court prevent Netanyahu from taking on any cabinet roles beyond the premiership. In addition to being the nominal health minister, Netanyahu has also been serving as health minister, foreign minister, communications minister and the minister for regional cooperation.

On Sunday, the High Court of Justice ruled that Yaakov Litzman cannot continue to serve as deputy health minister with no presiding minister, and gave the government 60 days to fill the post.

In their decision, the five justices ruled that the current setup was “unlawful.”

“If you ask any hospital or citizen, they will tell you that the person governing the Health Ministry is Litzman and not Netanyahu,” Supreme Court Vice President Elyakim Rubinstein said during the hearing.

Let’s be clear. First it wasn’t right to be a minister. Now, faced with the option of staying true to their principles, and losing the post, or changing their principles, the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party and Yaakov Litzman changed their principles. What a bunch of hypocrites.

And what is worse, is that they knew it was illegal because the court had already ruled against the charade in a previous government. (See my earlier post.)

Yesh Atid hailed the court’s decision as a “triumph of the public interest over the political interest.

“The healthcare system is one of the most complicated and problematic in Israel, and it deserves a full minister with all the authority and responsibility required of a minister in the State of Israel,” the party said in a statement on Sunday. “Of course this is not meant as a war against the ultra-Orthodox, but rather against the culture of backroom deals.”

On this, I am 100% with Lapid. He called it right. Well done to Lapid and Yesh Atid.

Litzman on Thursday afternoon mocked the Yesh Atid petition, telling Channel 2 that “the only achievement of [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid is that he added a little money to my paycheck.”

And that is rather nasty, isn’t it? It’s almost as if Litzman doesn’t like Lapid. Or fears him. Why might he fear Lapid?

Well, I suspect that part of it is that Lapid has long campaigned for a sharing of the burden, and UTJ and Litzman are opposed to that. What is worse, from Litzman;s point of view, is that Yair Lapid has principles. And he will stick to them. So the threat is not going away.

Besides, Yaakov Litzman, whatever happened to lashan hara? I may not be keeping up with the mitzvah, but you are not setting much of an example!

In any event, on the facts, Litzman is also wrong.

No, minister, it is not that your salary has been enhanced; instead it is that you and your party have been shown up to be hypocrites and a dreadful example of how not to behave.

Judaism? Not mine, it isn’t.

Yes, Minister?

Source: Wikimedia

Yaakov Litzman Source: Wikimedia

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) is an Israeli political party that, like all others, craves power. However, because its rabbonim do not want its members to vote on matters like the IDF and security – which they would have to do as full ministers – no UTJ member has served as a full minister. Instead, somebody came up with a trick: “deputy minister acting as minister.” Deputy ministers do not get a vote. (So, in the wonderful world of UTJ, their hands are clean. Like hell they are! What a dirty, hypocritical, immoral, trick.)

As I understand it, in previous governments Prime Minister Netanyahu allowed one such member of UTJ, Yaakov Litzman, to be in charge of the Ministry of Health, twice, using this trick. The High Court previously ruled that this was illegal, but Bibi ignored the court and nobody followed up. Litzman remained in charge. So much for the rule of law. UTJ was not part of the next coalition government, though, and the issue went away.

This time around, following the last elections, Bibi ran the same trick – for the benefit of UTJ and not Bibi, it has to be said. Litzman was appointed as deputy minister acting as minister.

Enter Yesh Atid. Leader Yair Lapid took the matter to court. The good news is that the High Court followed its earlier ruling. From YNET:

Supreme Court orders health minister appointment

The Israeli Supreme Court, in its capacity as High Court of Justice, ruled that Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party cannot continue to serve as Deputy Minister with Minister powers.

In a dramatic decision handed out by a five-judge panel, the Supreme Court ruled Sunday that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the haredi United Torah Judaism party must cease to be a deputy within two months.

The court added that Mr. Litzman can legally be appointed as a full minister, which is the most likely course of action, though it would be a first for United Torah Judaism.

I’d rather we had no need to involve Litzman and UTJ (see here and here for further background) but at least there is some progress on reinstating the rule of law, and more normal civilized behavior. For now.

And if Litzman does become the full minister? Well, yes minister, it will underline how much hypocrisy there is the world of UTJ.

Well done to Yesh Atid.

Lapid in Ra’anana


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. Continue reading

Lapid to the fore

Yair Lapid goes into enemy territory with his Huffington Post piece: The Betrayal of the Intellectual.

I don’t accuse intellectuals of bias or of anti-Semitism but too many of them are certainly guilty of intellectual laziness.

Too many American and European intellectuals have taken moral relativism to its absurd extreme, falling back upon the ‘validity of every narrative’ and repeating the mantra that ‘every story has two sides.’ They treat those who have a clear moral stance as primitive. For them, if you take a moral stand or choose a side in a conflict you must lack the necessary tolerance to “see the other side.”

It seems a distant memory but not long ago intellectuals did the exact opposite. They were the ones who helped us differentiate between good and evil, between right and wrong, between justice and injustice. They didn’t delve into the childhood of Senator McCarthy or ask whether the Germans felt a genuine sense of hardship. The debate wasn’t over feelings but the essence of truth.

The betrayal of the intellectuals was especially noticeable during the days of the operation in Gaza. Ostensibly, there should be no question as to who enlightened people should support; on one side of the conflict stands a western democracy, governed by the rule of law, which warns civilians before striking legitimate terrorist targets. On the other side stands an Islamist terrorist organization, homophobic and misogynistic, committed to killing Jews, which does all in its power to murder innocent civilians and hides behind its own women and children when carrying out its vicious attacks.

But those intellectuals see it differently. For them, the Palestinians are suffering more and so they must be right. Why? Because they have turned suffering into the only measure of justice.

The suffering in Gaza is truly heartbreaking, but the causes are not clear cut. When Hamas forces civilians to stand on the roof of a building which is used as a terrorist command center despite knowing that the building will be attacked (and they know because we warn them), who are we to hold responsible? When Hamas places rockets and explosives inside UN schools and fires from within hospitals, who are we to hold responsible? When Hamas fires thousands of rockets and mortars at the cities of Israel and fails to kill hundreds of our children only because of our technological edge and the Iron Dome missile defense system should we blame ourselves for suffering less?

Those intellectuals betrayed themselves because they refuse to answer these questions or even to truly appreciate the complex global reality in which we all now live. Instead they stare at the photographs of the injured children in Gaza and compete as to who is the most outraged.

Hamas, of course, is acutely aware of the weakness of many western intellectuals and treats them as a tool in its propaganda war. There is significant intelligence information — not only in the hands of Israeli intelligence — which shows that Hamas believes, theologically, that there is no barrier to sacrificing the lives of the children of Gaza to garner sympathy in the western media. Those who are aware of the intelligence also know how the Hamas sees western intellectuals who buy into their gruesome propaganda — they are a tool, to be used and to be mocked.

Not too long, understated, but pointed. I like it. Some of the away crowd – as evidenced by comments under the line – get it as well.


Memories After My Death – Yair Lapid

This is the biography of Tommy Lapid, an Israeli journalist, writer, businessman, and politician who died in 2008. The book is written by his son, Yair, and largely based on a series of taped interviews Tommy gave after being diagnosed with a terminal disease.

First, this is a beautifully written book. It underlines Yair’s writing qualities, which shine through, even though the version I read was in English, translated from the original Hebrew. So, a big vote of thanks to the translation work of Evan Fallenberg.

Second, be aware of the interesting approach taken by Yair: the book’s perspective is that of Tommy. The narrative is Tommy speaking from the grave, looking back on his life. It took me a little while to get used to it, but when I did I realized the technique helped my see the world from Tommy’s perspective.

Third, many people will remember Tommy as being the Israeli politician renowned for his enmity towards the religious communities, especially the haredim. But the book, which does deal with this aspect, is so much more. It’s a rich retelling of the family history, the suffering through the Holocaust, the chaos of surviving in a Communist country, and the fresh start in Israel. It’s rich because so much happened in his life, and the book is crammed with stories about how he crossed the paths and careers of so many landmark figures of Israel’s early history. For example, Tommy got work on a Hungarian newspaper and through that became close to the legendary Israeli humorist Ephraim Kishon. There’s much more: Tommy was on close terms with Ehud Olmert, for a time was close to Ariel Sharon, met Ben Gurion, fenced with Netanyahu, battled with Barak, worked for Robert Maxwell, and on and on. In part, at least, this book gives the reader another view of the history of Israel.

Finally, while the book reflects the undeniable love Yair had for his father, it does not hesitate to show Tommy in a less than favorable light occasionally. So, the picture painted is that of a real person, who sometimes lost his temper, held a grudge, overindulged his appetite, made a bad judgement call, and did the other things ordinary human beings do. The book deals with the matrimonial troubles of his children, and the tragedy Tommy and his wife suffered.

At the same time, the book rightly celebrates and marks the man’s experiences and achievements. Tommy survived the Holocaust by the skin of his teeth – and his mother’s quick thinking.  It was important to record the details of his story. It’s a bonus that it is told so well.

I refuse to criticize Tommy’s attitude towards religion, especially Judaism. What he described as the “death of G-d” was a perfectly natural and understandable response to what he witnessed in the Holocaust. Neither I nor anyone else can dare challenge him. We do not have the right. His views were his views, and that’s all there is to say.

And his experiences hardened his Zionist soul. He witnessed what happened to Jews who were dependent on other people for their lives, and he did not want that to ever happen again.

Simply put, if you have any interest in Israeli history, get this book. It is a magnificent biography, spoiled only by the lack of pictures to remind us of Tommy’s widespread swathe through the world.