When Yair Lapid became the caretaker prime minister of Israel on July 1 — a position he will hold at least until the next round of elections scheduled for November — he offered a simple yet profound statement of his vision for Israel: “Jewish, democratic, liberal, big, strong, advanced and prosperous.”
Lapid is a political “centrist.” He is a secular Jew from the “Tel Aviv bubble” — something akin to the East Coast or Beltway elite. His is a patriotic Zionist who supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. He believes that the Israeli economy must be based on free-market principles. And, despite very real, existential threats from Iran — which he pledges to monitor closely — he does not believe that the whole world is against Israel.
Lapid’s vision for the Jewish state is full integration into the world community while continuing to strengthen Israel’s close relationship with the United States. He recognizes Israel’s responsibility to help lead the worldwide struggle against antisemitism, which is also tied to efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Lapid’s speech was inspiring. But, understandably, it lacked a clear game plan for fulfilling his vision. He is, after all, working with the same fragile, disparate coalition government as former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — a construct that was largely orchestrated by Lapid himself a little more than a year ago, in the then-successful effort to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power.
In the process of forming the Bennett-led government, Lapid did something audacious. Even though Lapid’s Yesh Atid party had more elected Knesset seats than any other coalition partner, Lapid agreed not to become prime minister and to give the prize to Bennett, of the much smaller, ultranationalist Yamina party. If their government lasted more than two years, or if their government fell and Yamina was part of the reason, Lapid would become prime minister. That’s what happened.
Lapid is Israel’s 14th prime minister. He is the country’s first non-right-wing leader in two decades, and one of the few Israeli prime ministers without significant military experience.
And his rise to power was also atypical. Lapid is a former TV journalist and news anchor, who many initially dismissed as an intellectual lightweight, who lacked the experience to navigate the complexities of national politics, and too good looking. But he persevered. And he has been remarkably successful. After the 2013 election, Lapid joined Netanyahu’s government and became finance minister, only to be fired along with fellow moderate Tzipi Livni. He then settled into opposition until the 2021 election, which enabled him to be the kingmaker and chart his own political course.
As caretaker prime minister between now and November, Lapid will have the political bully pulpit of the prime minister’s office. He will have the opportunity to convince voters that their future is brighter with his moderate policies than they are with the right-leaning politics of Netanyahu and his political allies. On that score, Lapid has an uphill battle. But he has surprised us before, and he could do so again.
In the interim, we wish Yair Lapid much success.