In a WhatsApp discussion with haredi journalists on Monday, Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid insisted that he had “nothing” against haredi Jews, despite his reputation for anti-haredi polemics.
“I do not hate haredi Jews – G-d forbid,” said Lapid during the exchange, “We were just trying to honestly rewrite Israel's social contract during the previous government. It would be very presumptuous of me to tell you that my way is better for you than your own traditions are.”
During his term as Finance Minister in Binyamin Netanyahu's previous government, Lapid spearheaded Knesset legislation to draft haredi youths, requiring them to leave yeshiva in order to serve in the IDF or face penalties, including prison. In addition, Lapid sharply cut allocations to haredi yeshivas and schools, and his original draft legislation for Zero-VAT sales tax purchases by first-time homebuyers specifically excluded areas that haredi families were likely to buy in.
Nevertheless, Lapid told the journalists that he was “misunderstood,” and that he had not intended to suggest that they were not good Israelis – and not important to the country. “I have no problem with haredi Israelis and in living with them. As the community grows, it is going to need to find solutions that will encourage members to work. If haredi Jews are ever a majority in Israel, I will not be afraid of that.”
If anyone was hurt by stories about Lapid's relationship with haredim, it was Lapid himself, the Yesh Atid chairman said. “I sometimes read the haredi newspapers and web sites, and I can tell you that I have sometimes read things about me that were written in a very unfair and hurtful manner. It is very sad that Jews can write and speak that way about other Jews.” Lapid stopped short of saying that the haredi journalists owed him an apology, although several members of the WhatsApp group said that this was what he meant.
During the previous election campaign, leaders of United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and Shas said that they would not join a government that Lapid was a member of. Hoping to deflect the notion that he was “damaged goods,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that he was convinced haredi politicians would not hesitate to join a government he was a part of. In fact, he said “they would even sit in coalition with Haman of Purim fame if it helped their interests.”
In the end, both haredi parties joined the government, and Yesh Atid did not – causing Lapid to protest that they would upend his legislation and remove penalties for yeshiva students who did not serve in the army. “This is a scandal for any Israeli who does serve his country, who works hard and pays his taxes,” Lapid said after the coalition agreement was signed. “This narrow, paranoid coalition is an embarrassment for all Israelis who care about their country.”
Members of the government “who claim to care about security – Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon – are signing on to a deal that will ensure that it is only the 'suckers' who serve in the IDF. They are the ones who will continue to send their children to the army, while others will sit by the side and reap the benefits given them by the groups who have managed to blackmail the coalition,” Lapid said.