Tommy Lapid, the father of Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, was infamous for his anti-religious rhetoric. He reserved his harshest invective for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, whom he regularly dubbed “parasites,” “barbaric primitives,” “idle fanatics” and “enemies of progress” for taking state subsidies to study Torah while being exempt from military service. Indeed, Lapid the elder built an entire short-lived political party—Shinui (Change)—around the idea of bringing the country’s Haredim to heel. So when Yair Lapid entered the political arena, many suspected a similarly strident secularism would animate his campaign, whether explicitly or implicitly. And to a certain extent, this presumption was correct. Lapid’s new budget slashes Haredi subsidies; his party has proposed abolishing most Haredi army exemptions; and Lapid himself has gleefully sparred with ultra-Orthodox lawmakers in the Knesset to defend these stances.
But Yair Lapid is not his father. Where Tommy reveled in lambasting his ultra-Orthodox antagonists, Lapid has repeatedly reached out to them, even as there is little political advantage in doing so, given Lapid’s largely secular base and general anti-Haredi sentiment rife in Israeli society. The Yesh Atid leader’s latest outreach effort came at a press conference on Wednesday, where he addressed his words directly to the ultra-Orthodox over the heads of their leadership, which has accused Lapid of seeking to destroy the Haredi way of life.
“What is actually happening is not what they are telling you,” Lapid said. “What is really happening is not an attack on the world of Torah. What is really happening is not an attempt to topple the foundations of your world. Not one of us wishes, heaven forfend, to force hiloniyut (secularism) on you or to impose our version of Israeli identity. This state was established so that Jews could be Jews, and live as Jews, without having to fear anyone.”
“What is really happening is that it is impossible to continue like this. When the exemptions and subsidies for Torah learners were established in 1948, they encompassed 400 yeshiva students from the entire Israeli population. Today, the Haredi community numbers 800,000 people. Every third child in the country learns in a Haredi school. 10% of every army recruitment class consists of Haredim who will not enlist. And when these are the numbers, we cannot continue this way. Such a large population cannot stand on the sidelines and tell itself that the state is not its problem.”
In contrast to his father’s us-versus-them mentality, Lapid emphasized the shared fate of Haredim and non-Haredim. “If Iran develops a nuclear bomb, this is also happening to you,” he said. “If tomorrow, God forbid, a third intifada should break out, and there are waves of terror as there were in the past, this is also happening to you, and you know as well as I do that the terrorists do not distinguish between us.”
“This is also happening to you, and we need you.”
Watch an extended excerpt of Lapid’s entreaty below, with our English subtitles (click “CC” if not enabled):
Read the full speech in Hebrew here.