Under normal circumstances, the Knesset members in the opposition are jealous of those in the coalition, who are jealous of the cabinet ministers, who are jealous of the prime minister.
That is not the case this time. Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid is overjoyed to be opposition leader, on the outside looking in, with no jealousy whatsoever of his former partners in Blue and White who joined the government.
But Lapid does not intend to be there for very long. In an interview, he predicts victory for himself in elections next March, talks about his potential political partners and insists on keeping his secrets about his former ally, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz.
Why do you think you belong on a list of the world’s most influential Jews, if as opposition leader, all you can really do is kvetch?
In a democratic society, we in the opposition are the voice of the half of the Israeli people who are very unhappy. And in a parliamentary system, to handle the crises over COVID-19 and the economy, you need to have cooperation and goodwill. It’s a Jewish tendency to be unhappy with the way things are going: When it comes to relationships with Diaspora and issues like pluralism and recognizing religious streams, we are the sole address and the only people who are willing to listen to and work. In the history of the Jewish people, alternative voices have often been proven right.
Take us through your ideal situation for the months ahead.
In December, elections will be initiated that will take place in March. In the past three elections, the party I was in won twice, the times my name was on the ballot. I am sorry my ex-partners decided to join the government. The next election will be about the corona crisis and the economy and not security. It will be about who can handle the health system and the Israeli economy. It is common knowledge that this government has failed on the economy. Our unemployment is three times that of Europe. Our deficit could end up being as much as 14% of our GDP, which is outrageous and unnecessary. Our economy shrunk in the last quarter year by 27.8%. These are disastrous numbers. We will have an election on “the economy, stupid.” I rescued Israel from the last economic crisis by reducing the deficit and unemployment. Netanyahu will try to make the election focus on his legal issues and Right and Left. We will say we need a functioning government of 18 ministries that will fix the economy and fight the pandemic.
Who could potentially join a coalition led by you?
Anyone who wants to fix the economy and fight the pandemic: Aside from Netanyahu, everyone is a potential partner of some sort. The Joint List would not be in the government, but I see no problem with them supporting the government from outside, except for Balad, which is antisemitic. To focus on the pandemic and economy, we will need to put other conflicts aside, including issues dear to me like religion and state.
Are you open to a rotation in the Prime Minister's Office?
I can’t answer, because I don’t have the results. Winning the election is doable. I know, because I did it twice in the past year and a half. There are things you have control over, and things you don’t. We can control how we run. Yesh Atid decided that we will only run with us leading the list, because we learned the hard way that we can trust only ourselves to keep our promises to our voters. I’ve made many mistakes in my life but never twice. We will run as Yesh Atid-Telem will MK Moshe Ya’alon, who is a great partner who kept his promises.
You rule out a rotation with Netanyahu, but you sat in his government before.
I sat in Netanyahu’s government, but at the time he wasn’t indicted in criminal cases. And I didn’t promise not to sit with him during the election. His problem is with Israeli democracy. He realizes if Israel is more of a democracy, he will go to jail, so he wants it to be less of a democracy. I won’t sit under him because of his legal issues and because he has made hatred and dissension into political tools, which is disastrous for the soul of the nation.
Are you concerned that polls find the public sees Naftali Bennett to be most fit to be prime minister after Netanyahu and not you?
No, because we are the second largest party in numbers and in real life. That is why Netanyahu is most worried about me. Bennett is explaining well how to better handle corona, which is important. The world has just the corona crisis. We have two crises, corona and the crisis over our democracy, because of BB. Bennett is a skilled politician from a different party, which is fine. That's a fight I’m welcoming. Netanyahu is a threat to everything I believe in for Israeli and the Jewish people.
What is your reaction to the deal with UAE?
I congratulate the government and Netanyahu. It was well due, and I hope other countries will follow.
Can you tell us something Gantz told you when you were political partners that hasn’t come out yet that people would find interesting?
No I can’t. People know that what they say to me behind closed doors will remain only with me, and I won’t jeopardize that for a one liner. I hope he and his MKs come to their senses and leave this awful government, which is a disgrace that will always stain them.