Yair Lapid Goes Back to the Future

Head of the newly-formed Yesh Atid party was due to make a speech at the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Atlanta, on the day that the Netanyahu-Mofaz unity government was formed.

Yair Lapid found himself in Atlanta on Tuesday, trying to explain why he was giving a speech at the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly when the future of his own newly-formed party, Yesh Atid ("There is a Future" ), had become so fuzzy in the wake of the surprise unity government.

Lapid admitted it was "bad timing," but promised to work hard to "unite all sane voices" for the next election. "I see huge opportunity; it creates a big vacuum for us. Kadima has once again become what it has always been - part of the Likud."

Yair Lapid, center, at the Rabbinical Assembly National Convention in Atlanta
Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg

Lapid drew enthusiastic applause from the Conservative rabbis when he spoke of religious pluralism, and pledged to promote civil marriage and equality for all religious denominations in Israel. "I wanted to be here because I believe the Jewish identity is in danger and you are the gatekeepers, the people who believe Judaism shouldn't be a jailhouse of ideas, but a liberator of ideas. No one can claim ownership over the Jewish God," said Lapid, who will have to wait a long time now to raise those views in the Knesset.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the same event, trying to capitalize on his close relationship with the Jewish community to bolster Barack Obama's campaign for reelection. In what sounded almost like a competition with Mitt Romney, who likes to bring up his "friendship with Benjamin" (Netanyahu ), Biden called for a moment of silence for Benzion Netanyahu, "great historian father of Bibi, friend of mine for 40 years. He and I have been close friends for a long long time."

Biden called himself a "Zionist," adding "I would never join the administration if President Obama had not shared my views on Israel.

Biden tried to convey a tough message regarding Iran, saying the diplomatic window will be closing soon, and predicted that its leader Ahmadinejad will be "gone in two years." But in his effort to explain the administration's smart approach to Iran, he irked the Republican Jewish Coalition. "When we took office, there was virtually no international pressure on Iran," said Biden, blaming this on the Bush administration's poor global standing. "We (the United States ) were the problem. We were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe."