This past week, Yair Lapid delivered his first speech as Finance Minister of the new Israeli government. In most countries, this might not sound like edge-of-your-seat material. But Israel is not most countries. What began as an effort by Lapid to explain his austerity budget quickly devolved into a shouting match with the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) members, who accused Lapid of unfairly targeting their community with his cuts.
As currently drafted, Lapid’s budget slashes government subsidies in half for religious schools that do not teach a core curriculum of science, math and English—a move designed to encourage ultra-Orthodox institutions to offer those subjects. At the same time, Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is spearheading a Knesset committee which proposes ending most military service exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, as well as cutting 30% of funding for their seminaries.
“No one hates you,” Lapid insisted, over repeated interruptions from members of the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties. “The only thing that happened … is that you are not in the coalition. This is called democracy.”
Despite such protestations of goodwill, sharp fault-lines between the secular Lapid and his Haredi interlocutors were apparent. When one lawmaker baldly accused Lapid of attempting to starve ultra-Orthodox children by cutting subsidies to large Haredi families, he responded sharply: “The entity that is responsible for supporting children is their parents,” an implicit indictment of the many ultra-Orthodox families currently living off government handouts, while one or both parents remain unemployed.
“To bring a child into this world is a weighty responsibility,” Lapid continued pointedly, “and you must not have children on the assumption that other people will support them, but rather on the assumption that you must support your own children.”
Haredi lawmakers also harangued Lapid over his use of Facebook on Shabbat, a period when even non-religious Knesset members typically refrain from posting. Lapid bristled and shot back, “I post news on Shabbat because I don’t keep Shabbat. I don’t tell you what to do on Shabbat, you don’t tell me what to do on Shabbat.” When MK Moshe Gafni refused to drop the subject, the Knesset meeting chair Meir Shitreet cut him off with the wry riposte, “MK Gafni, I am sure that you don’t use the internet!” To which Lapid added, “Heaven forbid.”
Watch the key moments of Lapid’s back-and-forth below; we’ve added English subtitles (click ‘CC’ if not enabled):