Who is interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid?

Meet Yair Lapid, Israel’s new caretaker prime minister, who heads the second-largest party in the Knesset.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s move to dissolve the Knesset and send Israel to new elections means current Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will become interim prime minister in the process.

In June 2021, Bennett signed a coalition agreement with Lapid, the leader of the center-left Yesh Atid party, to form a government. As part of the bargain, Bennett agreed to a rotation agreement which would see him serve as Prime Minister for two years, then pass the baton to Lapid.

The agreement contained a caveat that if Bennett or the coalition’s right-wing parties were responsible for the fall of the government, Lapid would assume the role of caretaker prime minister until the next election.

Meet Yair Lapid

Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Lapid was a well-known TV news anchor and journalist before he entered politics in 2013.

During his IDF service, Lapid worked as a writer for the Bamahane military press. After his service, he wrote for Hebrew language newspaper Ma’ariv, and was appointed the editor of daily Yediot Ahronot.

Lapid’s father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, was a prominent journalist who once served as Israel’s Justice Minister.

The elder Lapid was known for his staunch secularism, and during his time in the Knesset, became infamous for his blistering rhetoric against ultra-Orthodox Jews (choice remarks included calling them “barbaric primitives” and “parasites.”)

He also made several attempts to promote legislation which imposed a separation of religion and state, which failed.

Although Yair Lapid has extended overtures to ultra-Orthodox political parties, he is largely distrusted by the community as a whole due to his father’s reputation.

Yesh Atid scored an unprecedented 19 seats in its debut election, and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to partner with the party for a broad unity government.

During a brief stint as Finance Minister under Netanyahu in 2013, Lapid slashed budgets for ultra-Orthodox institutions and pushed to end draft exemption for the community, moves which many said confirmed his commitment to continuing his father’s legacy.

Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid’s agenda

The Yesh Atid party, which is the second-largest political party in Israel behind the Netanyahu-headed Likud, currently holds 17 seats in the 120 seat Knesset.

Although Yesh Atid brands itself as a centrist, liberal party, some critics have said the party is more left-leaning than it admits. However, far-left parties like Meretz have attacked Yesh Atid for being too right-leaning.

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The party’s agenda lists universal military service for all Israelis, including ultra-Orthodox Jews who are currently exempt from the draft, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, which would see the end of construction of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and increased secular policies, like civil marriage and more public transportation on Shabbat, as cornerstones of its platform.

Yesh Atid’s stance on LGBT issues largely resembles that of the Democratic Party in the U.S., with the party saying it believes individuals should be able to change their gender on their identity card based on self-identification, without needing to undergo surgical treatment. The party also floated the idea of mandatory LGBT-related curriculum in Israeli schools, including in religious educational institutions, in 2019.

Although Yesh Atid has been a major player on the Israeli political scene for almost a decade, its ability to pass legislation or implement its agenda has been limited. For example, a bill pushed by Lapid to end the ultra-Orthodox draft exemption was passed by the Knesset, but in reality, had no effect on the number of religious Jews recruited to the IDF.

With the Knesset disbanded and a prime minister’s powers to enact new policies severely limited under those circumstances, the chances of Lapid successfully implementing Yesh Atid’s agenda while serving as caretaker prime minister are slim to none.

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