Lapid predicts ‘crooked’ new government will fall quickly

Blasting record number of ministers, opposition head says ‘Israelis deserve better,’ claims ‘unity’ a false characterization of coalition when partners don’t trust one another

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset, as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)
Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset, as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

Yesh Atid-Telem chairman and new opposition leader Yair Lapid on Sunday warned the leaders of Israel’s incoming government that the coalition they just finished building will soon fall apart.

“You opened Ikea. Go and ask them what happens to a table that’s built crooked. Things that are built crooked fall apart quickly. This will fall apart quickly,” said Lapid in a fiery speech during which he targeted his former political partner Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom spoke before him.

“Israelis deserves better,” he declared, lambasting the unprecedented size of the 35th government, which will have a record 35 ministers and 16 deputy ministers. “We’ll be here to remind them that it can be different. There is an alternative, a different leadership. Not a leadership that cares only about its own jobs and seats.”

He promised that the opposition he’ll lead will set an example for a different leadership “committed to values, to the change we want to lead. To love Judaism but to fight religious coercion. To stand against racism. To fight corruption. To protect our democracy from those who seek to destroy it.”

Lapid went on to assert that despite Netanyahu and Gantz’s characterization of their new coalition as a “unity government,” the reality was far different.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presenting the 35th government of Israel to the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“Look at how it was built – zero trust between partners… People who don’t believe a word the other says. That’s not unity. A legal agreement between people who can’t stand each other isn’t unity,” he said.

“There is not, and can never be, a unity government under Benjamin Netanyahu. You can’t spend years and years dividing the Israeli public, causing one half to hate the other, and then announce that you’re a unifying prime minister,” Lapid continued as a masked Netanyahu shook his head from his seat in the plenum.

“Your entire career has been based on one thing: the ability to make decent Israelis angry at one another, your ability to use fear and hatred. Name one thing that you’ve done all these years to unite the Israeli people?” he said.

“Today, this building has lost the trust of the Israeli public. People hate politicians, they hate politics. They don’t believe politics represents values. They definitely don’t believe that it’s relevant to their lives. They’re right. Politics takes their money and gives them nothing back. There is no connection between politics and the real lives of real people,” Lapid added.

Just over a year ago, Lapid teamed up with Gantz, Telem chairman Moshe Ya’alon and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi to form the Blue and White party. The four of them led the centrist alliance through three elections, but failed to gain the support necessary to form a Blue and White-led coalition.

After the most recent election in March, the party split over whether or not to join Netanyahu in a unity government. Gantz and Ashkenazi argued that Israelis could not afford a fourth election against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and that a unity government with the Likud leader was the only viable option.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz presenting the 35th government of Israel to the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

Lapid and Ya’alon — who both had served as ministers under Netanyahu and campaigned on the assertion that he cannot be trusted — argued that they had promised voters not to sit under a premier under criminal indictment and that other options were still on the table to prevent a fourth election other than a Likud-Blue and White unity government, options that Gantz had not entertained before announcing his intention to team up with Netanyahu.

As a result, the party broke up, with Lapid and Ya’alon taking their 16-MK Yesh Atid-Telem alliance into the opposition and Benny Gantz bringing the 15 MKs from his Israel Resilience party into the government, while keeping the Blue and White brand.

Lapid will lead a diverse opposition made up of his centrist Yesh Atid party and its right-leaning Telem flank, the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, the far-right national religious Yamina alliance, the left-wing Meretz party and the majority-Arab Joint List.

Among those who spoke after Lapid was Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, who attacked the incoming government from the right, accusing Netanyahu of compromising on his principles.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked at the Knesset as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“As it did during the Gaza disengagement, the Likud party decided to withdraw from its basic values,” Shaked said.

“In the political sphere, Netanyahu’s promise to apply sovereignty [to large parts of the West Bank] is melting away. It is not mentioned in the government’s principles,” she said, though Netanyahu in his speech moments earlier said his new government would be moving forward with the controversial move.

“After an entire election campaign angrily attacking the courts, Netanyahu surrendered unconditionally and decided to obliterate the new spirit I instilled in the Justice Department in recent years,” Shaked, a former justice minister, claimed, arguing that her efforts to appoint conservative judges would be neutralized by new Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn from the Blue and White party.

“Instead of a free market, we will again receive strong unions that blackmail the economy. Instead of reducing regulation, we will return to the Mapai days of favors for associates, and instead of a competitive economy, we will get mass strikes every Monday and Thursday,” she continued.

“Netanyahu has cast aside the ideological right, religious Zionism and all its values,” she lamented.

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