Yair Lapid: We’re not stupid

Blue and White leader tells how the Center can bridge the gap between Right and Left.

Blue and White No.2 Yair Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Blue and White No.2 Yair Lapid
I believe, above all else, that people aren’t stupid.
You need to take that statement seriously because it is a direct challenge to the zeitgeist. It stands in direct contrast to the dominant populist discourse in Israel and parts of the Western world. It contradicts the principles of advertising which have become the official religion of political campaigning. It may sound naive when you know that the average viewing time for a political video on Facebook is less than six seconds. In other words, a politician who believes people aren’t stupid risks being accused of stupidity by the rest of the world.
And still, not only do I believe that people aren’t stupid, I established a political movement based on that belief.
I believe that if we give people a chance, they prefer facts and science over ignorance and hate. They’re not scared of change, because they want a better world for their children. They’re willing to accept those who are different, because every one of them has been different at least once in their lives. They understand that you can’t talk about the common good without accepting that it includes a common responsibility. They understand that our place in the world – economic, social, security – isn’t only the result of external forces but is also the result of decisions we take.
The extremes tell us that if we vote for them, everything will be exactly the way we want – everyone will dress like us, pray like us, think like us. It’s a tempting offer, but the cost is impossibly high. Populism arrives into our lives riding on the back of suspicion. Populists tell us that all the good in the world comes from “our group,” and all the bad from “the other group”. The result is destructive. Instead of a society based on cooperation, a society based on the idea of destroying the identity of the other is being created before our very eyes.
Our vision for Israeli society is based on a far less eye-catching idea – life isn’t a zero-sum game. Our country, just like our families and our workplaces, will never be 100% what we want. It’s a product of reasonable compromises between people and communities.
That is the essence of the political Center – my freedom isn’t achieved at the expense of someone else’s. Belief that’s coerced isn’t belief. Compromise isn’t the abandonment of values. We will never give up the fight for an Israel that is liberal, democratic and free. It’s just that compromise is the only way to get there. Extremists on both sides of the map insist on all or nothing, and that will always end with nothing. To improve our situation we need to cooperate with others.
The goal of the Center is to bridge the divide between two high peaks. On the one side, a strong society with clear rules. On the other side, creativity, human rights and the unique divine spark that exists within each of us. There is clearly a built-in contradiction between the two. That’s okay. People can handle that. They’re not stupid.
There are those to whom this will seem horribly naive. I want to remind them that this naive approach lies at the heart of Blue and White, the largest party in Israel. It succeeded because the vast majority of people prefer a leadership that recognizes the complexity of life. They’re willing to live with people who are different, because they recognize that it is the nature of human society. Majority rule demands that we listen to those not in the majority. The Center is the abandonment of the fantasy that everyone will be like us. In his last speech as education minister, Naftali Bennett said, “If I could push a button that would make all those who think differently from me disappear – I wouldn’t push it.” I agreed with Bennett. I don’t want him to disappear.
In the worldview of the extremes, compromise is weakness. In the worldview of the Center, compromise is strength.
We don’t measure our decisions by which ideology they express, but by how they impact reality. That is the originality of the Center – decisions that are analyzed by results, not by compliance to old ideas.
Compromise is not an indecent necessity, but the engine that powers society. Our principal dilemmas aren’t meant to be solved, they are meant to drive us to act.
THERE ARE three central dilemmas that inhabit the public discourse in Israel – civil, socioeconomic and diplomatic. On all three we’re paralyzed. The way out of the paralysis is to find the compromises that lead to action.
The first dilemma is life in a “Jewish-Democratic state.” It’s a complex project – morally, socially, practically and legally.
Without Judaism we won’t have a community to belong to; without civil rights it won’t be a community worth belonging to. If one of the two options wins, we all lose.
We will fight with all our might against the possibility of a halachic, theocratic state but equally against the idea of a “state of all its citizens” which removes the Jewish identity.
To create the right balance, we’re committed to a series of smart compromises: a different formulation of the nation-state bill; a Supreme Court override bill that doesn’t destroy the authority of the court; writing a constitution that will bridge between the different parts of Israeli society. The aim of the debate isn’t the victory of one philosophy over the other, but the creation of a balance that allows us to live together – secular and religious, Left and Right, Jews and Arabs.
The second dilemma is the balance between a free market economy and our commitment to a country that cares for all its citizens. Capitalism isn’t a just system, but it’s the only efficient one. Social justice is evidently good, but only if it isn’t a code name for jealousy and attempts to limit the success of others.
For the economy to succeed, the state needs to interfere as little as possible. The success of Israeli hi-tech, for example, is a direct result of the fact that the country can’t intervene in a field that develops at such an incredible speed and isn’t limited by borders. As opposed to the theory of trickle-down economics, it isn’t money that trickles down from rich to poor (it doesn’t), but, rather, knowledge and technological innovation that trickle down into society. That’s the new capitalism.
Capitalism may seem cold and harsh, but only it can create the resources a country needs. Without those resources, a country can’t afford security, healthcare, education and welfare.
Instead of headlines and slogans, we need to navigate carefully between options and needs. Israel has enough resources to ensure that no one goes hungry and every child has a good education. Every other use of the money is immoral. The role of government isn’t to resolve the dilemma but to ensure balance is maintained.
When are problems created? When the government brings extraneous interests into the equation. When it transfers billions of shekels to extortionists and extremists, the free market ceases to be free, and welfare ceases to be fair.
We need to restore balance to our economy; to decrease the size of government; to ensure that every group in society – including the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs – contributes to the economy and enjoys its fruits; and to improve the physical and human infrastructure.
The third dilemma is the diplomatic one. The State of Israel is navigating between a dangerous present and a dangerous future. On the one hand we must never give up on the principle that Israel’s security remains in Israeli hands. We don’t trust anyone else, and certainly not the Palestinians. On the other hand, if we don’t separate from them, the time will come (and it isn’t that far off) when they will say, “We get it; you won’t give us a state, so let us vote and be citizens.” If we say yes, we’ll no longer be a Jewish state; and if we say no, we’ll no longer be a democracy.
There isn’t a clear solution to the dilemma at present, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. We need to avoid irreversible steps in Judea and Samaria that will prevent us from separating from the Palestinians in the future, and to do all we can to create a regional conference (with the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and Gulf states) to restart the diplomatic process.
In the past two years we have missed an incredible opportunity in Donald Trump. We have in the White House a leader who will give us his full support for an initiative. Instead of taking advantage of that fact, the government of Israel has done nothing. The initiative can’t come from others. We need to lead, not to be led.
I could continue with more examples, but you understand. Our simple idea is complexity.
EXTREMISTS AND populists sell us an illusion that as the ideology is purer and more confrontational, it is also stronger and more authentic. They describe the Center as tepid, slow and lifeless.
The opposite is true. The Center is flexible; the extremes are rigid. The Center knows how to compromise; the extremes know only how to become entrenched. That’s why the Center can change reality, while the extremes can only argue with it.
Israel has frozen in the face of these huge dilemmas because the government allows extremists to navigate. We’re busy trying to beat others’ arguments instead of working together to impact reality.
Management of a country is mostly compromise and balance. Countries that violated their internal balance went up in flames or died in silence. Countries that found the right balance are prosperous and flourishing.
The big difference between the Center and the extremes is how you measure success. We just have a different scale. The Center is tested by how much it has managed to truly change the situation. The extremists test themselves by their purity and how loyal they are to their old ideas.
Anyone who wants to change reality, instead of just being angry with it, should join us.
The writer is chairman of Yesh Atid and No. 2 on the Blue and White list.