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Tuesday, September 27, 2022
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Yair Lapid Becomes Israel’s New Prime Minister


Prime Minister Yair Lapid during a press conference. | Image by Yonatan Sindel, Flash90 via the Times of Israel

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Yair Lapid was sworn in as Israel’s provisional prime minister on Friday after the Knesset, the country’s legislature, approved a resolution to dissolve itself the previous day.

Lapid is familiar with receiving attention. Born into a well-known family, Lapid has dabbled in music, acting, screenwriting, and even amateur boxing. However, the Israeli public is familiar with him as a journalist who became a politician.

As Israel’s interim prime minister, Lapid will now get his most significant exposure.

Yair Lapid is now preparing for elections to prevent former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from retaking office.

Lapid’s acting career was brief, but through the news, he established himself as a regular in Israeli homes. After a brief stint as a print journalist, he transitioned to television in the middle of the 1990s and hosted one of the most popular talk shows of the time.

Lapid changed careers in 2012, following in the footsteps of his journalist father, who later became a politician. He founded a new political party called “Yesh Atid” (There Is a Future) and established himself as the moderate Israeli middle class’s domestic issue advocate. He committed his party to addressing housing expenses, ending Ultra-Orthodox military draft exemptions, and legalizing same-sex unions.

“What unites all of [our supporters] is that they said yes for hope and yes for mutual responsibility and yes to the fact that the truth is not being held in any side,” Lapid said then.

Lapid attempted to depict his party in his first campaign as one that all Israelis could join, announcing his foreign policy program from a settlement in the West Bank. Although he advocates for a Palestinian state, he believes East Jerusalem should not serve as its capital. Although he opposes the development of new settlements, he thinks that sizable existing settlement blocs should always be a part of Israel.

Anshel Pfeffer, a journalist for Haaretz and The Economist, said, “Yair Lapid is the quintessential product of Tel Aviv, of Israel’s main secular city, its main business and culture center, center of nightlife, and so on.”

“Many Israelis, including Israelis who were close to his centrist perhaps leaning leftward politics and views, including many of my colleagues in Israeli media, didn’t take him seriously. They thought he’s a performer, he’s a presenter, there’s no real substance there, this will be a passing phase,” he said.

But in the 2013 elections, Lapid’s party stunned the Israeli political establishment by taking 19 seats, coming in second only to Netanyahu’s Likud party. Lapid was hailed as Israel’s rising political star and included in Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People” of 2013.

In less than two years after becoming finance minister, he was ousted from then-Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administration and rose to prominence in the opposition.

Lapid was the chief architect of the alliance that eventually ousted Netanyahu and ended his tenure as Israel’s longest-serving prime leader in 2021 after four unsuccessful elections in two years.

The new administration maintained a one-seat majority after bringing together parties from all points of the political spectrum, from the far left to those on the right, and even incorporating the first Arab party to sit in a governing coalition.

But Yair Lapid’s political aspirations came at a cost. Lapid would only become prime minister after two years as part of the agreement to make the right-winger Naftali Bennett the new leader.

The coalition’s ideological mix ultimately served as both its strength and weakness. When two members of Bennett’s right-wing party defected, it lost its legislative majority. The coalition also hit a roadblock when several left-leaning lawmakers refused to back a recurrent measure that, among other things, grants Israeli settlers on the West Bank the same civil rights as Israeli citizens.

Lapid and Bennett abruptly declared last week that they would dissolve their government, call fresh elections, and appoint Lapid as acting prime minister.

Lapid and Bennett expressed their support for one another in a show of unity — a public display that astonished many in the Israeli media.

Yair Lapid will serve as Israel’s first non-right-wing prime minister in more than ten years. He now has four months to persuade the public that he should preserve his position.

Voting will take place on November 1.

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