'This is the most important thing you'll ever do'

Lapid in tears as cabinet discusses budget boost for people with disabilities

PM says proposed bill will enshrine rights and services in law ‘for the first time’; FM weeps as he shares daughter’s story

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his daughter Yael in 2018. (Yair Lapid' Facebook profile)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his daughter Yael in 2018. (Yair Lapid' Facebook profile)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid broke out in tears Sunday during a cabinet discussion of a bill aimed at approving the allocation of NIS 2 billion ($595 million) for people with disabilities.

The government convened Sunday for its weekly cabinet meeting, with the bill, proposed by Lapid along with Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, high on the agenda.

Opening the meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the government was taking “another historic step toward integrating people with disabilities” into society.

“We are allocating approximately NIS 2 billion,” the premier said, “for a range of new services,” that will include social workers’ assistance, guidance in running a household, stenography  and translation into sign language, and more services that have been lacking or not sufficiently addressed in the past.

Bennett said that the bill officially enshrines the rights of people with disabilities by law “for the first time,” noting that its implementation will “provide opportunities” and “dramatically change” the daily lives of people with disabilities, as well as the lives of their families.

During the debate, the foreign minister shared with the panel of ministers his personal connection to the matter, being a father to a child on the spectrum — Yael — and noting some of the hardships and blessings involved in raising a child with  autism, citing specifically noting “the physical and emotional pain felt by parents, the fact that Yael can’t speak and tell her parents she loves them.”

“This is the most important thing you’ll ever do,” the emotional minister said to his fellow ministers of the legislation.

From left to right: Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a weekly cabinet meeting, May 22, 2022. (GPO/Haim Zach)

Stressing the importance of making an effort to integrate people with disabilities into society, Bennett said Sunday that the government recently approved an “important amendment” that will provide “100 new accessible intercity buses for people with disabilities so that they will be able to go to work, to their families and to school.

“This has not been possible until today,” he claimed, noting the hard work of Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Yamina MK Shirly Pinto that created opportunities “that did not exist until today.”

Lapid has been vocal about the importance of accepting people with disabilities. In a Facebook post from 2018, he shared an incident with his daughter that involved driving twice to a nearby convenience store because he failed to understand what she was asking the first time.

“I just wanted to thank everybody who happened to be at the Alonit [convenience store] near Netanya this morning and say that if there’s a country I would prefer raising a child with special needs in, it’s Israel. Not because of the conditions — God knows we have a lot to do in that regard — but because of the Israelis,” Lapid wrote at the time.

And in 2019, after Likud MK David Amsalem suggested that now-Defense Minister Benny Gantz might be “autistic,” Lapid posted withering criticism on Facebook, telling Amsalem, “Don’t mess with me.”

Likud MK David Amsalem during a plenum session in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ FLASH90)

“To him, being my daughter is a curse,” Lapid wrote at the time, “because in Amsalem’s world everything comes at the expense of the weak.

“Benny Gantz isn’t autistic, Mr. Amsalem,” he went on. “You don’t have to stop the car on the side of the road when he has a wild tantrum and bites his mother. He doesn’t take food from the tables of other diners in a restaurant. He doesn’t need to be fully sedated to get dental work. His parents don’t stay up nights worrying about who will care for him when they’re older.

“I’m a politician. I’m supposed to be polite. Not this time. Don’t mess with me, Dudi. Speak nicely about my daughter,” Lapid said.

According to data published by the Justice Ministry’s Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2021, Israel is home to some 1.6 million people experiencing some form of physical or mental disability, including 326,000 children — some 17 percent of the population.

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