Yair Lapid wasn’t even on the Jerusalem Post's 50 most influential Jews list a year ago, when he was merely a candidate
in an election that had not yet been declared.
To go from not on the list
to No. 1 in a year is not easy.
But in just a year, Lapid, 49, has
rocketed his way to the top of the Israeli consciousness, and redefined the
country’s priorities away from security concerns toward domestic issues,
galvanizing an otherwise splintered Center bloc.
Lapid has overcome
challenges before. He rose to become the anchorman of the top-rated Channel 2
news magazine and the lead columnist in Yediot Aharonot when it was Israel’s
For the first time in decades, Israel had an
election this year that wasn’t about war and peace. It was about socioeconomic
concerns, civil issues and frustrations with politicians. On all three, Lapid
was there, with an agenda of helping the middle class, ending ultra-Orthodox
hegemony and without a single politician on his Knesset list. Even on the peace
process, Lapid found a way to speak for a consensus of Israelis and managed to
take 150,000 votes from Likud and give them to a party that is ostensibly on the
Over the past year, Lapid traveled around the country,
galvanized young and middle-class voters, and built a party ex nihilo into the
country’s second largest. He then played the coalition negotiating team smartly,
using Yesh Atid’s 19 seats and Bayit Yehudi’s 12 to keep the haredi parties out
of the coalition and become finance minister.
Now the man who started his
campaign by asking where the money was is in charge of every shekel, to the
chagrin of many Israeli voters disappointed by his extensive budget cuts and tax
increases. Unfortunately for him, he has to be cutting rather than adding funds
to some of his pet causes, but he is already making his mark in dramatically
changing the country’s national priorities, focusing strongly on drafting
yeshiva students into the army and mandating core subjects being taught in
ultra-Orthodox schools. (No. 2 on his list, Rabbi Shai Piron, is now the
Lapid has also taken a stance in favor of religious
pluralism, potentially putting an end to many “status quo” issues that have
controlled the country for decades.
“Israel cannot be the only country
without freedom of religion for Jews,” Lapid told The Jerusalem Post in October,
in his first interview to the English media since he entered politics. “All
streams must be equal.
The monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate on marriage
should end. I want Israel to remain a Jewish state, but I want separation of
religion and politics.”
Time magazine put Lapid on its list of the
world’s most influential people (and left out Binyamin Netanyahu), perhaps out
of hope that Lapid’s presence in the government could give new life to the peace
“Israelis expect their leaders to be boring, and I understand
that I do not qualify, but they will get over it,” Lapid told the Post last
His name means “he will light a torch” and his party’s name means
“there is a future.” How he handles himself – and our money – over the next year
will determine whether he will light the way to a better future for not only
himself but all Israelis.