Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid

By Jenni Frazer

Israel’s former finance minister, Yair Lapid, has announced his intention of running for prime minister in the country’s next elections.

Speaking to a packed audience at JW3, London’s Jewish community centre, Mr Lapid, the founder and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, belittled the possibility of the Israeli Labour Party winning another election.

Mr Lapid said: “The difference between the last election [in March 2015] and the next election is that I wasn’t running against Mr Netanyahu for prime minister then. I didn’t challenge him, and I’m going to in the next election”.

Responding to a question from an audience member who wanted to know what choice there was for liberal, moderate voters in Israel, Mr Lapid said that he did not think Labour could win an election and that the next election would be “a very different race.”

Mr Lapid, son of the Hungarian Holocaust survivor, journalist Tommy Lapid, famously left the “comfortable” world of journalism and broadcasting to enter politics in January 2012. In conversation with Bicom’s Professor Alan Johnson, Mr Lapid said that one of the things of which he was most proud was a deal he pushed through to help Holocaust survivors. “After three months, every Holocaust survivor in Israel got NIS 3600 [about £600] in their bank account. That made me happy.”

The politician was in London to take part in the Jewish News UK-Israel Shared Strategic Challenges conference, a day-long series of panels and seminars featuring many of Israel’s leading academics, politicians, diplomats and think-tank leaders.

Mr Lapid spent part of his day speaking to Jewish students, who, he told the JW3 audience, were hungry for information about how to combat boycott and antisemitism on campus. He made clear his commitment to the two-state solution: “Sooner or later the Palestinians are going to ask for the vote. And either we say no, in which case Israel is no longer a democracy, or we say yes, in which case there is a Palestinian majority and it is the end of Zionism”.

With only days to go before a possible deal is concluded with Iran, Mr Lapid also made an impassioned plea to the British Jewish community to bring pressure on the UK government to reject the current deal on the table. He was very unhappy, he said, about the failure of the deal to insist on surprise inspections of nuclear facilities. “Sooner or later,” he warned, “Iran is going to have a nuclear weapon and it is going to fall into the wrong hands”. Israel was bound to be its first target.

In a wide-ranging discussion Mr Lapid rarely said outside Israel what he might have said inside. But he made an exception for the former American ambassador Michael Oren, whose book about his Washington years has been widely criticised. “You can’t be an ambassador, then become a politician and start to tell secrets from behind closed doors,” Mr Lapid said. “That’s irresponsible. Even the leader of his party, Moshe Kahlon, wrote an apology to the American ambassador in Tel Aviv. I am deeply disappointed at the way in which he [Mr Oren] conducted himself. He should have waited at least five years until both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu were out of office.”

The event was held in partnership with the Board, JLC, UJS and JW3.