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Lapid lashes Netanyahu, Labor for ‘corruption’

Yesh Atid leader accuses Likud of favoring bloated government, payouts for allies; casts his party as champion of clean government

Yair Lapid, January 1, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/Flash90)
Yair Lapid, January 1, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid on Thursday launched his most scathing critique yet of “corruption” in Israeli politics and government, expanding on a theme that has become his central campaign message.

His speech to party colleagues decrying what he perceived as his rivals’ corrupt practices came amid a massive government corruption sting by the Israel Police. The Israeli public, Lapid asserted, was “sick and tired of corrupt leadership.”

“Corruption is ordering pistachio ice cream to your home from the public purse, Mr. Prime Minister, and to transfer garden furniture to the villa in Caesarea, insist that money for your swimming pool be paid for [with public funds] and to fight for the public to buy you a plane,” Lapid said.

He referred to revelations of the Netanyahu household’s expenditures that sparked public criticism of the prime minister last year. Netanyahu has also pushed for the state to purchase a dedicated jet for the president and prime minister, who currently travel abroad on official business on chartered commercial flights.

“Yesh Atid was the only party that voted against that plane.… Mr. Prime Minister, in a country with the largest social gaps in the Western world, in which the middle class can’t finish the month without debt and the poor start the month with debt, a private jet is corruption,” Lapid said.

But the bulk of his criticism was directed at the financial deals that characterize Israeli coalition negotiations.

“A month before the government collapsed I was called to a meeting with the prime minister, defense minister and minister of housing,” Lapid, who served as finance minister at the time, related to his party chiefs.

“They wanted to transfer NIS 300 million to roads and public buildings in [the West Bank settlements of] Itamar and Yitzhar – money that goes directly to those who vote for them in the primaries. I refused. They gave me the impression that if I didn’t transfer the money, then the government could collapse. I refused, because that’s corruption, and I broke up the meeting. When we left the government it took them exactly a minute to do everything that we had prevented. That same NIS 300 million was transferred two weeks ago [in a Knesset Finance Committee vote] because we weren’t there to look after the public purse.”

The left-wing Labor Party, too, was guilty of political “corruption,” Lapid charged.

Labor “didn’t vote for the Equal Burden Law [drafting ultra-Orthodox youth to national service] just to get close to the convicted felon [Shas leader] Aryeh Deri,” Lapid accused.

“They know the law works. They know it’s a success. They know there is an increase of 300% in ultra-Orthodox job seekers. They know there is a 40% increase in enlistment.… They know it will be almost impossible to pass that law again.… They convince themselves – and that’s where the corruption starts – that the most important thing is that they are in power.”

Lapid turned his ire on Jewish Home, linking his right-wing former coalition ally to the police investigation of the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, a pseudo-governmental agency controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office that funds construction in West Bank settlements.

The pro-settlement Jewish Home, he charged, protected the Settlement Division from scrutiny. “Why do you think that police [corruption investigators] searched the Settlement Division offices [this week]? Because the corruption is ongoing. Because behind [Jewish Home leader Naftali] Bennett’s smile there is a sectorial party which looks only after itself and its settlements and its institutions and its yeshivas.”

And, Lapid concluded, his own salary was proof of “corruption” in government.

“Corruption isn’t only what’s illegal. Since when is criminality the only standard for what’s not permissible? Don’t we have moral criteria? Because moral corruption is also the fact that today my salary was increased. Today the salaries of MKs increased. For what? The Knesset isn’t even working. Knesset members are only working on primaries and Yesh Atid was the only party that tried to prevent this salary increase,” he insisted.

A Likud spokesperson declined to comment on Lapid’s charges, but the party released a statement Thursday responding to the former finance minister’s remarks.

“One doesn’t judge an irrelevant party in its moment of weakness. Lapid has no future,” the statement read, a reference to the Yesh Atid party’s name, which is Hebrew for “There is a future.”

Labor Party MK Stav Shaffir also criticized Lapid.

“Good morning to Yair Lapid,” Shaffir quipped on Thursday, “who as finance minister transferred funds each morning to [the West Bank settlement of] Yitzhar. Where were you? Instead of preventing the budget transfers [to West Bank settlements] when you were finance minister, stopping the corruption in Jewish Home and the political bribery of Bennett, you gave this dirty method a kosher stamp,” the Finance Committee member said.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel, of the Jewish Home party, who also came in for blistering criticism from Lapid, called the Facebook-savvy Lapid a “talkbacker,” and said he “caused harm to the Israeli economy, worked against public housing, and is the last person who can lecture anyone on morality.”

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