The Shinui Party failed precisely because it succeeded in one of its primary goals, pushing the haredi parties out of the coalition, Yosef "Tommy" Lapid told The Jerusalem Post after quitting his post as the leader of the centrist party this week.
Lapid, who during his seven-year reign made headlines with his acerbic tongue, has no intention of disappearing from the public stage, even though on Wednesday he quit the party that had become synonymous with his name. He told the Post that he intended to pursue "public life," but as of Thursday, had not said how.
Lapid said he believed in Shinui's ideals of a civil and secular revolution, but did not support the new Knesset list that is made up mostly of younger and lesser-known members. Lapid accused those members of being more interested in Knesset seats than in ideology.
These "young people" have "no experience and no chance to win seats. I refused to lead such a list. I thought it would be immoral to suggest to the public that these people are representative of Shinui," said Lapid.
He was also upset that his second-in-command, MK Avraham Poraz, was not reelected.
Lapid left Shinui just as polls predicted that the party was unlikely to gain any seats in the upcoming 17th Knesset, while the new centrist party Kadima was expected to secure 44 seats.
The problem is that Shinui did its job too well when it ensured that religious parties were out of the government in the last coalition, even though it didn't legally secure the separation of religion and government, said Lapid.
"We proved you can have a working government without the haredi parties taking part. This will have a lasting consequence on Israeli society," said Lapid.
Still, the party failed to fully achieve its goal of creating a "full-fledged secular society with the division of state and synagogue like in America," said Lapid.
But without religious parties in the government it became hard for the public to believe that a party dedicated to a civil government was necessary, said Lapid. In light of that, "our fight for a modern secular society seemed less relevant," he said.
Shinui is suffering the same fate as the Zionist state itself, the former Shinui leader said. Once the Jews finally succeeded in creating a state and began to enjoy its benefits, it became less obvious why one was necessary.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's sudden decision to create a new and immediately popular centrist party "crushed Shinui," Lapid said. He added that he was proud that Shinui had closed down the Religious Affairs Ministry, even though he was disappointed that it failed to pass laws to allow for civil marriage, public transportation on Shabbat and compulsory military service for yeshiva students.
Regarding civil marriage he said that Israel is the only Western country that does not allow it. Had Shinui remained in the government, he believes it could have passed civil marriage into law.
"We were very close to that, but we ran out of time and couldn't achieve everything we wanted," said Lapid.
With respect to public transportation on Shabbat, prohibiting a secular person from traveling on that day is as wrong as compelling a religious person to travel on Shabbat, said Lapid. "It is exactly the same idea of imposing your will on someone who has a different way of life," said Lapid.
He defended his sharp attacks against the religious population in Israel, which were often labeled by his opponents as hateful and incitement. "I have a sharp tongue and I'm very critical. I make my points in a very enthusiastic way, so it may lose some points and win some points," said Lapid.
But he warned that his style of speech should not be confused with hatred. "I do not hate the ultra-Orthodox, I am angry with them." The issue, he said, is not about religion, but that its observers believe it gives them a special status.
"They do not accept the rules of the game - equal work, equal pay and equal duties. They said, 'No, we have a special status in which we do not work and we do not pay taxes and we do not defend the country; you defend it for us," said Lapid.