Bringing an air of optimism and hope to the Knesset

Yesh Atid’s Dov Lipman reflects on a hectic, unpredictable but ultimately satisfying inaugural year as an MK.

Yesh Atid's Dov Lipman 370 (photo credit: Sam Sokol)
Yesh Atid's Dov Lipman 370
(photo credit: Sam Sokol)
There isn’t much that fazes Dov Lipman.
Throughout his first year as an MK, the constantly smiling Maryland native has adopted a jovial, optimistic attitude toward the oftentimes frustrating legislative procedures found in the Knesset and in Israeli politics in general.
It turns out, though, that Lipman’s roll-withthe- punches approach is not limited to politics.
Last week, he sat down with the Magazine and discussed the overarching issues facing the country, and his involvement in topics ranging from the fiery Beit Shemesh elections to getting haredim into the workforce.
During the interview, one of the many prized plaques that hung on Lipman’s wall, unexpectedly – and loudly – crashed onto the floor. An unperturbed but chuckling Lipman glanced at the plaque on the floor, then looked at this reporter, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh well, that probably broke. It’s fine. We’ll take care of it.”
Pointing to his diploma from Johns Hopkins University on the opposite side of his office, he said with a prideful grin, “This also broke when I first moved in here.”
And perhaps that office mishap can stand as a metaphor for the way Lipman sees Israeli politics: If something breaks, there’s no need to panic.
Just move on with a confident grin and try to find a swift solution – in the nicest way possible.
Despite his easygoing nature, Lipman is serious about the critical issues threatening Israeli stability and the security of the Jewish people. Below are some highlights on his thoughts on the most pertinent issues facing the country today.
Haredim and the mainstream Before that plaque fell and interrupted our interview, Lipman carefully took it off the wall to show evidence of his efforts to help haredim join the workforce come to fruition.
The treasured plaque was a thank-you note from a man who, with Lipman’s help and encouragement, started an employment agency specifically for the ultra-Orthodox male population. Reading out loud from the stark black font emblazoned on canvas paper, Lipman said, “As the year starts, I would like to thank you for your hessed on behalf of our company. Without your work, we would not be helping hundreds of haredim every month find a job.”
For a rabbi in a secular party, Lipman has found himself desperately trying to bring together these two disparate and conflicting worlds. He has taken it upon himself to be the conduit of tolerance and acceptance between these two groups, who believe they have nothing in common.
Lipman, who earned his smicha from Baltimore’s Ner Yisroel Rabbinical College and his master’s from the city’s Johns Hopkins University, sees his educational background as the kind of template the haredi world in Israel should adopt in order to find its place in mainstream society.
According to Lipman, it is the combination of two degrees – from a religious and secular institution – is “normal and natural in America, and that makes [the ultra-orthodox] more moderate and part of society, and we need that in Israel.”
On a basic level, Lipman argues that the process can and should begin with a dialogue between the two communities.
“Being able to share the message of respecting each other is a big success for me,” he says of his frequent talks to Israelis hailing from a wide array of denominations.
“Secular people, especially younger people – teenagers and college students – are surprised when I tell them that I respect their decisions and them for who they are. And this is the new reality we have to create in Israel.”
As for the haredi population, Lipman believes the real work is found in employing ultra-Orthodox men and requiring math and English to be taught in their schools.
In a conversation with Adina Bar-Shalom – the daughter of late Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef – she emphasized that change will only occur when young children are exposed to these educational reforms as early as possible. However, taking on the challenge of employing haredi men B.K.S. is a source of pride for Lipman. Getting them into the workforce has proven to be an intractable issue with many obstacles; their sheer lack of job-hunting skills, and fear of working for a secular employer who may treat their religious needs with hostility, makes sacrificing the study of Torah for a job a hard sell.
To face these obstacles, Lipman teamed up with AllJobs – the most popular online employment agency in the country – to create a branch on its site exclusively for haredim. The positions available on this separate page are jobs where the employer has specified that he is willing and happy to hire members from the ultra-Orthodox community.
The program – whose official details will be announced next month – will offer haredim a reduced rate for their first month of enrollment, and will also provide them with resumé writing skills and job interview tips. “We’re talking about a program where I think, and All- Jobs certainly thinks, tens of thousands haredim will be able to find jobs. That’s a major success,” Lipman said.
The failed foie gras ban While the haredi taskforce is Lipman’s crowning achievement this year, the failed foie gras bill he championed taught him that even the most simple and commonsense of bills could pose a multitude of unforeseen ramifications.
When Lipman co-sponsored a bill that would ban importing foie gras – a product that is made by force-feeding ducks and geese – he envisioned a bill that most MKs could get behind, because of its stance against animal cruelty and the product’s violation of basic Jewish beliefs.
“When I first came into the office, I didn’t go running quickly to pass laws… [this bill] seemed to me like something so simple. I thought, ‘Who is going to disagree with this?’” Since producing foie gras in Israel is already against the law, Lipman and other animal rights activists simply wanted to take the law one step further.
Much to their surprise, though, the Agriculture Ministry vehemently opposed the bill as it reached its first reading in the Knesset in July. Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir argued that passing such a bill could sabotage trade agreements with countries like Hungary and France, which produce and export the product.
“I realized that no matter how much you want to make things right for this country, no matter how passionate you are about it and believe it, it’s possible that it’s not going to happen,” Lipman said.
In true Lipman fashion, however, he has not let this experience discourage him from pursuing his passion for animal rights. For example, he is currently working on a bill that would prohibit animal shelters from killing otherwise healthy dogs that can’t find a home, and another initiative that would mandate spaying stray female dogs. He also believes the Agriculture Ministry has done a poor job in terms of animal welfare, and would like to see animal rights moved under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Ministry instead.
Free speech and the ‘Nazi’ ban Last month, Lipman co-sponsored a bill that would forbid people from using Holocaust symbols in a non-educational context, or calling another person a “Nazi.” The bill, which passed a preliminary reading at the Knesset, would impose a NIS 100,000 fine on those who violated this law.
MKs from across the board vehemently protested the bill, on the grounds that it poses a threat to free speech. Lawmakers such as Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Shas chairman Arye Deri – two MKs who otherwise would have little in common – came out against the bill.
Lipman acknowledged the criticism, but refused to back down from his support of the bill.
“There’s no doubt that it’s minimizing free speech,” he said. The bill was formulated in order to curtail the growing incitement against police officers.
“For a country built upon the ashes of the Holocaust… I want everyone to know that if they yell a word like that at a policeman, that is a criminal offense.
And it will stop it. I want to know that we stopped Jews calling other Jews – especially Jews that are protecting them – Nazi,” Lipman said emphatically.
To the critics who worry that such a bill could spiral out of control, Lipman is quick to add that he is favor of a very narrow definition of when using such a word would be illegal. The country’s satirists and political humorists can rest easy, then, knowing that such a bill has no danger of applying to them, he promises.
The battle for Beit Shemesh As a Beit Shemesh resident, the issue of the city’s election is one that – literally – hits close to home for Lipman.
The contentious battle between supporters of incumbent Moshe Abutbul and his opponent Eli Cohen last fall transcended a mere municipal election – coming to represent the struggle between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular and religious Zionists throughout Israeli society.
So when Abutbul emerged victorious last October, Lipman felt that he lost much more than an election.
It is actually when discussing this subject that Lipman loses a touch of his naturally congenial disposition. “I came into politics because of Beit Shemesh,” he explains. “These elections were the end of five years for not just myself, but a whole group, who were trying to save Beit Shemesh from going in a [negative] direction in terms of construction and culture and population tensions.”
Before the elections were even called, evidence of voter fraud emerged. On Election Day, police raided two Beit Shemesh apartments where hundreds of forged ID cards were found. In light of this revelation, the Jerusalem District Court issued an unprecedented call for new elections there. The issue is currently under review by the Supreme Court who, at the time of this writing, have not yet determined if new elections will take place.
In Lipman’s view, the opportunity to restore balance to a city overrun by corruption and stalemates is exactly what Beit Shemesh needs. “We will put pressure to make sure new elections are held as soon as possible, because the city is not really functioning right now. I’ve spoken with the interior minister and he will make sure elections will be held very quickly,” he declared.
Even though it is difficult to get Lipman to say a bad word about anybody, it is quite obvious where his allegiances lie in this struggle for justice. “If I have a partner in city hall, there are remarkable things that can be done in terms of city planning and bringing in new business.
But we need to have someone we can work with. Moshe Abutbul was not willing to work with us, unfortunately. So that’s another reason why I’m hopeful that Eli Cohen will win, just so I, as an MK in the city, can do more for it.”
It’s lonely at the top The day after last year’s election, Yair Lapid’s broad, triumphant grin was splashed all over newsstands and Israel’s TV screens. In those days, Lapid had plenty to smile about.
A year later, though, the tide has begun to turn. Late last month, according to a Knesset Channel-Panel poll, Yesh Atid would drop from 19 seats to 12 if a new election took place today. Another recent poll conducted by The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication, Sof Hashavua, revealed that Lapid is the least popular minister among the Israeli public.
While the future of a party can’t hinge on a poll or two, this does indicate Yesh Atid may be headed for a turbulent future.
But this too, does not faze Lipman.
“I think as long as we keep living up to flag after flag, we’ll do well in the next election,” Lipman said, maintaining his token air of optimism.
“There’s never going to be a sense of, ‘Wait, we’re dropping the polls, lets change direction.’ This is what we said we wanted to do, and this is the platform.”
Whatever the future holds politically, Lipman – who is No. 17 on the party’s list – is determined to stay in politics.
“After a year here, I can honestly say that I want to be in this realm of work forever.”