Not yet an MK, Yair Lapid already acting the part of Israel's prime minister
With early elections cancelled, the former journalist and novice politician will probably not be a member of the government any time soon - but that hasn't stopped him from adopting some of the pretensions of the powerful.
Yair Lapid will probably not be a member of the government before the elections scheduled for November 2013, but the novice politician, who has expressed such distain for the ministers in the current government, has already taken up some of the practices that a prime minister might assume. On Friday, he arrived at the Majdi forum for retirees in Kfar Sava accompanied by a security guard, who cleared his way through the crowd.
Former Shin Bet Yuval Diskin's appearance at the forum two weeks ago, and the headlines that followed, caused the plaza, where usually no more than 20 retirees congregate on Fridays, to swell with a crowd. In addition to the 200 or so people who came to hear Lapid speak, were quite a bit of members of the press, equipped with microphones and cameras.
When Lapid arrived, fashionably late by ten minutes, a brawny young man cleared his way through the crowd. Once Lapid took his place to speak, in front of the rows of plastic chairs, the young man stood to his right, poised to react to any threat on the life of the talent, sweeping the crowd with his eyes and asking the audience to clear the aisle in case an emergency arises and Lapid needs to be rushed out.
I asked Lapid if he was issued a security guard and if so, why. At first he jokingly said that those who threaten him by phone are the least dangerous, but then continued to give a dissembling answer. "A security guard is someone you pay," he said. "This is Rustic – my friend. When I go to a place with many people he comes with me."
It is unclear what has Lapid so concerned that he feels he needs the services of a security guard. Sorry - a friend. Several retirees in the Kfar Sava plaza may have displayed some emotions during the questions and answers segment, but they didn't quite fit the profile of a potential assassin.
Security guard or friend, none of this hindered Lapid from giving a fiery speech in which he condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, and their unity government.
"Thirty-six ministers and deputy ministers - that's not corruption?," he asked. "Shaul Mofaz as a minister without portfolio, that's not corruption? Now we also found out in the Knesset that the number of ministers will be increased… this horrible government must be toppled. It isn't ethical – we must topple them."
Lapid spoke to the crowd in Kfar Sava mostly in populist slogans that everyone likes to hear – against the ultra-Orthodox, against the Arabs, against the politicians, while speaking for the middle class, for the secular, and for those who fit his convenient definition of "most of the public."
Lapid also displayed quite a bit of racism and nationalism. When he spoke about the need to raise the vote threshold in the Knesset, he gave the example of the Arab parties, who dare run separately in the Knesset. "If we raise the vote threshold, there will only be one Arab party," he said, and brought up the MK that we all love to hate: "If we raise the vote threshold, then Hanin Zuabi wouldn't try to figure out how to board the Marmara II, but would rather deal with rights for Arab women."
There was one embarrassing moment for Lapid at the Kfar Sava plaza, this time regarding a subject close to his heart. One of the retirees asked him about his position on women's singing in public events. "I will not be present at any event where they bar women from singing," he replied.
A person in the crowd then rose to his feet and told Lapid, "You will be present at such an event here in Kfar Sava next Tuesday. There is a youth group conference, and because of Bnei Akiva they are not permitting women to sing." Lapid seemed uneasy, glanced in the direction of the activists from his party and explained that he was unaware of the situation and that he would reexamine the issue.
Lapid also made several interesting remarks through his speech, including several contradictory ones.
Regarding the ultra-Orthodox: “Look at how Shas, with 11 MKs, controls all of us and how United Torah Judaism with 5 mandates acts as if they officially own the Knesset Finance Committee. I don’t hate the ultra-Orthodox, but I wonder how they always take care of their own community’s interests. It is fitting that there will be someone who looks after the rest of the Israeli public.”
Regarding the peace process and the settlements: “Everyone knows how the conflict with the Palestinians will end, but it’s unclear how long will pass or how much blood will be spilled. Right now we are not sitting at the negotiation table, and that is irresponsible.”
On the other hand, Lapid refuses to accept the Palestinian demand to freeze building in the settlements. “I don’t see any logic in freezing construction, as it is necessary for natural growth. People live there. But if we seek peace, there is no point in building new settlements.” Lapid also called the controversy surrounding the Ulpana outpost “scandalous,” saying the government “must obey the High Court.”
Regarding his party’s internal code of rules: “They said it isn’t democratic, but new parties are the ultimate prey of vote contractors, and everything that we see in Kadima, Likud and the Labor Party. I didn’t want extremist outside forces coming in and taking over the party in a hostile manner, similar to what happened with the centrist Likud. I wanted a period of stabilization and balance in the party. In seven and a half years, you are all welcome to topple me.”