The deep political divisions in Israel must not obstruct working together to achieve shared goals to better the country, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in his maiden speech as premier on Saturday night, as the country geared up for a heated electoral campaign.
The speech functioned as a sort of mission statement for the new premier, who officially entered office at midnight Friday to lead the interim government until a new one is formed after the November 1 election.
That mission, he said, was “a Jewish, democratic, liberal, strong, advanced, and prosperous Israel.”
“The State of Israel is bigger than all of us,” Lapid said. “More important than any of us. It was here before us, and will be here long after us. It doesn’t belong only to us. It belongs to those who dreamed of it for thousands of years in the Diaspora, and also to those yet to be born, to future generations.”
While Israelis will always have disagreements, “the question is how we manage them, and how we make sure they don’t manage us,” he added.
Lapid blamed polarization, which he said is higher than ever, on politics.
“The State of Israel is bigger than all of us”Prime Minister Yair Lapid
“In Israel, extremism doesn’t come from the streets to politics. It’s the opposite. It flows like lava from politics to the streets. The political sphere has become more and more extreme, violent and vicious, and it’s dragging Israeli society along with it. This we must stop. This is our challenge,” he said.
The prime minister said he is committed to serving all Israelis, including those who did not vote for parties in his coalition government.
“We are brothers,” he said. “In order to create a common good here, we need one another… We want our children to see that we did everything to build a Jewish and democratic, strong and advanced, benevolent and good Israel. Only together will we prevail.”
Most Israelis agree on “the truly important topics,” Lapid said.
Among them is that Israel was established when Joshua Bin-Nun crossed the Jordan River and that Israel must be a liberal democracy in which citizens have the rights to respect, liberty, freedom of employment and personal security.
Treatment of non-Jewish citizens must be based on Jewish values, Lapid said, quoting the commandment in Leviticus to love the stranger who dwells among you.
“We believe we must always preserve our military might. Without it, there’s no security,” he said.
Lapid referred to his father, former justice minister Tommy Lapid, who survived the Holocaust, and said: “We will make sure we always have the Israel Defense Forces, an army with undeniable strength, that our enemies fear.”
Iran is the greatest threat to Israel, which will not allow the Islamic Republic to acquire a nuclear weapon or entrench itself on its borders.
“To everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t test us. Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy,” he stated.
Lapid said Israelis pray for the welfare of its soldiers and police officers, and will not rest until Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed and the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul are returned to Israel from Gaza.
At the same time, “Israel stretches its hand to all the peoples of the Middle East, including the Palestinians, and says: the time has come for you to recognize that we’ll never move from here, let’s learn to live together,” he said.
“To everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t test us"Prime Minister Yair Lapid
Lapid also emphasized the rule of law, “the basis for our lives together.”
“We believe that the Israeli economy must be based on free market principles, on the creativity and dynamism of Israeli technology, and that our job is to protect those who have nothing. To provide a fair opportunity for every child, everywhere,” he said.
Israelis also agree to disagree, Lapid said, and defend free expression.
The only reference to Israel’s ties to the Diaspora in the speech was an oblique one, with Lapid calling “to harness the international community in the struggle against antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel.”
In a statement responding to the speech, Likud referred to a claim made by former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s ex-diplomatic adviser Shimrit Meir in an interview with Yediot Aharonot on Friday, that Lapid offered the Ra’am party a “blank check” in order to keep the coalition afloat.
“No statement of Lapid’s will hide the fact that... he sent his director-general with a blank check to the Shura Council” of the Southern Islamic Movement, which advises Ra’am, the Likud statement reads.
“The only government he can establish is with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Joint List.
“The choice is Lapid’s blackmailed government that includes the Muslim Brotherhood and the Joint List or a strong national government led by [opposition leader Binyamin] Netanyahu and Likud that will bring hope back to Israel,” the party stated.
Likud also protested the fact that Lapid’s speech was broadcast live on television, calling it a campaign speech and saying that Netanyahu should get equal airtime.