Yair Lapid: From off the list to number 1

In just a year, Lapid, 49, has rocketed his way to the top of the Israeli consciousness, and redefined the country’s priorities.

May 14, 2013 10:12
2 minute read.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid addresses Conference of Presidents, Feb 12

Yair Lapid 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

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 top-circulation newspaper.

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 center-left.

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 education minister.)

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 process.

“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 year.

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.

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