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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during an interview at his office (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/File)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during an interview at his office (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/File)
Interview

Lapid to ToI: Ukraine’s plight shows why Israel must always be able to defend itself

In an interview marking his 10 years in politics and ToI’s 10th anniversary, FM claims political discourse is healthier under the new coalition; says ‘I guess’ Netanyahu’s finished

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during an interview at his office (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/File)

I assumed Yair Lapid would cancel the interview we had scheduled for Saturday night. After all, it found the foreign minister grappling with the potential repercussions of a possibly very imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, home to some 15,000 Israelis and tens of thousands of Jews, many of whom might urgently want and need to get out.

But Israel’s intended next prime minister, if the coalition holds, welcomed me as scheduled to his office at his Tel Aviv home, having just completed a situational assessment on Ukraine with the prime minister, defense minister and others. And he paused our interview only once, to speak to the minister of transportation about issues relating to additional flights from Ukraine in the coming days.

It’s been a decade since Lapid — journalist, sometime amateur boxer, primetime TV news anchor, “autobiographer” of his iconic father Tommy Lapid — plunged into national politics, and a coincidental decade since we launched The Times of Israel. An opportunity, I thought and he agreed, to discuss some of the big issues of where Israel is headed and its internal and external well-being.

Lapid has had a rollercoaster decade — as he built his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party into a sizable political force, served and was fired as finance minister to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, partnered with former IDF chief Benny Gantz to try to oust Netanyahu, saw Gantz abandon him and join forces with Netanyahu in 2020 in a short-lived coalition, and then fashioned the most implausibly diverse coalition in Israeli history to push Netanyahu from power. Along the way, he put his own prime ministerial ambitions aside, first when allying with Gantz, and again when crowning Naftali Bennett as the only way to secure a Knesset majority last June.

However exhausting, the experience would appear to have been beneficial. The capacity to bring together parties from firm right to firm left, with his ally-turned-rival-turned-uneasy-colleague Benny Gantz in the center, and Ra’am, as Islamist party, as the icing on history’s most implausible coalition cake, reflects a political maturity and credibility nobody else in Israeli politics, including the Lapid of 10 years ago, could have mustered.

His hair may have gone from dark with gray flecks to gray-white in the process, but, at 58, he looks well. Indeed, Lapid’s self-stymying tactics seem to have left him at ease with himself — upbeat, healthily self-deprecating, patient, proud of what this coalition stands for and has achieved so far — and avowedly prepared to believe that Bennett is a man of his word and that his day in the hottest of seats will come as promised. (I’m certain he’d be immensely disappointed if things don’t play out that way, but I don’t think he’d be destroyed.) He doesn’t like to use his title of alternate prime minister, he makes clear at one point in our interview. “I have a meaningful life,” he says, at another, and believes it.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Sunday, December 5, 2021. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via AP)

Our conversation ranged from his commitment to provide any help needed for the Jews of Ukraine to the complexities of working with Israel’s American allies on Iran to Amnesty’s “completely untrue” allegations of Israeli apartheid practices against the Palestinians to his determination to equalize the legal status of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel.

Inevitably, at my instigation, it also touched on Netanyahu — the former prime minister’s ongoing relevance, the potential for him to return. Lapid was most withering about Netanyahu, however, in a passage in which the opposition leader was not mentioned. “The only reason people are still asking me” about whether Bennett will honor the rotation deal and hand over the premiership in August 2023, Lapid said mildly, “is because for the last 13 years, we got so used to the concept that a word is not a word, an agreement is not an agreement, everything you sign is just a piece of paper. I happen to see the world differently,” he said.

And then he added, clearly speaking from the heart, albeit with that touch of self-deprecation, “We have done the ‘pretentious’ thing of creating something [with this coalition government] that we think has a moral value. And I believe in moral values. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

The interview was conducted in English, and this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

The Times of Israel: Let’s start with Ukraine. As the foreign minister, you’re responsible for the Israeli officials. You’re responsible for the Israelis, for sure. And then there’s the Jews [an estimated 40,000-strong community]. Where do they come in?

They are part of my responsibility. Totally. They are part of Israel’s responsibility, the Israeli government’s responsibility. I have a somewhat traditional view on the scope of our responsibility. Ariel Sharon used to say that Israel is not only the Israelis’ country, but also the capital of the Jewish world. And that brings responsibility.

If the Jews in Ukraine are going to feel they’re in jeopardy and they need to be rescued or helped out, Israel will be there for them, as it was for Ethiopian Jews during the civil war or the waves of hunger there, and so on. So it’s totally part of my responsibility.

If the Jews in Ukraine are going to feel they’re in jeopardy and they need to be rescued or helped out, Israel will be there for them

In the last 24 hours, I had a Zoom meeting with the embassy in Kyiv, with all the people there. And we had a roundtable via phone, with the prime minister and the defense minister and everyone who’s involved, with the Israeli embassy. And we were discussing what to do regarding the Jews in almost the same way as we were discussing what to do regarding the Israelis.

The reason I wanted to do this interview is because you entered politics about 10 years ago, and coincidentally, at about the same time, we started The Times of Israel. So I want to ask you some of those big questions about how bruising it has been and how optimistic or pessimistic you are. You’ve said this coalition has basically saved the country, which was on the road to internal disaster. How toxic is the domestic reality at the moment?

I’m optimistic by nature, but I’m also optimistic as a worldview. Actually, I should say hopeful. Years ago, I had an interesting conversation about this with the late British chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who said, Don’t say optimistic, say hopeful. Because optimism is waiting for something good to happen, while being hopeful includes the will to make it happen.

Looking at Israel now and at Israel two years ago: We’re doing better. We have a better government. No one serving in it has been indicted. No one in this government is using hate as a platform or as a way to gain power. Public discourse seems to be a bit healthier. Today, people are not talking about the government as much as they used to. They’re talking about the cost of living, they’re talking about Omicron — they’re talking about issues that government needs to deal with, but not about the people [in government]. Or maybe that’s just my feeling.

We’re still obsessed with Netanyahu…

But not as much; it’s eroding slowly. I mean we live in an era in which revolutions do not happen, in which tanks do not surround [parliaments]…

He says amid an imminent invasion of Ukraine…

Yeah, but that’s different. That is the return of war as a concept, if God forbid it happens. But I’m saying that democracies either build or erode gradually, and we were on the road down, moving away from democracy, moving towards those countries that describe themselves using the phrase “illiberal democracy,” forgetting the fact that there’s no such thing.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives at the president’s residence in Jerusalem for a group photo of the new government, June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

So we’re doing better, when it comes to the country. As for myself, well, I think if somebody had told me 10 years ago, you’re going into politics now, it’s going to be a rollercoaster, but 10 years from now you’re going to be the foreign minister, yours is going to be the largest party in the coalition…

Lapid briefly breaks off to take a call from the minister of transportation regarding extra flights from Ukraine.

You’d have said that’s pretty good?

… and to be the alternate prime minister…

Though you don’t like to use that title.

No, there’s only one prime minister.

And this [healthier internal climate] is not meaningful only because of my personal status. It’s meaningful because it means our worldview — I don’t know if it’s winning the hearts and souls of Israelis, but at least it’s getting the attention of Israelis. More and more people are talking about the center versus extremists, instead of left versus right. More and more people are talking about the defense of democracy as the main issue.

So I think we’re doing okay. And myself, I have a meaningful life!

When you look at the NSO scandal in the context of your hope that maybe democracy is becoming more stable, that scandal has further undermined public faith in law enforcement, whether that’s justified or not.

Yes. And this is problematic because we don’t have another police force to protect us. We were sitting [at the Yesh Atid Knesset] faction’s weekly session and we were discussing it, and somebody said nobody likes the police unless somebody’s breaking into their house at two o’clock in the morning. Then, everybody loves the police.

Police deployed in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel Police needs to deal with security issues that no other police force in the democratic world faces. So we have to be very careful not to turn this into an attack on the police. I don’t want to find myself with a movement to defund the Israeli police. On the other hand, of course, this needs to be investigated thoroughly.

Being the optimist I am, I’ll say that scandals of this sort can only happen in democratic countries, because in non-democratic countries, this is the standard — that the government is tailing and phone-tapping and invading the privacy of citizens. The reason this is such a scandal is because we still have a democratic instinct. This country was created as a democracy. Not many countries are like this. It is embodied in Israel’s soul. And we want it to stay this way.

One of the biggest challenges we have as a government is restoring public faith in national institutions in general — the police, the army, the Supreme Court, the Knesset. And media too, by the way.

My experience as a journalist, as an editor, with police has not been good. We have exposed considerable white-collar financial corruption, including vast global theft online. In “All the President’s Men” or “Spotlight,” journalists expose alleged wrongdoing and the police wheel into action. Bad guys are brought to justice. Here, we expose vast dimensions of financial crime. Nothing happens. Only when the FBI and the other American law enforcement agencies get involved does Israel’s police get dragged along.

The behavior of the courts can also be hard to comprehend. There were 10 people arrested, among whom Moshe Hogeg was one, in a huge crypto crime bust three months ago. There’s still a gag order on the names of seven of those suspects. These are people who are allegedly ripping people off, and we can’t even name them, to warn the public.

This is not the field you’re talking about. But in this field, the police and sometimes the courts have been counterproductive. We expose them; nothing happens to them. They hire the best lawyers and they threaten us — sometimes physically, by the way, as well as legally. This is not a capable police force in the fields where I encounter it.

The police force has been under attack now for quite a few years by a [political] leadership that told itself, If we have functional law enforcement, we’re going to go to jail, and therefore we need nonfunctional law enforcement.

This government wants functional, strong, smart law enforcement, and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure this happens. The police force is unbelievably stretched — from tackling the crime wave in Arab society, to corrupt high officials, to demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and in Bnei Brak. So we need to empower the police while being very strict about the moral standards it follows.

On NSO, you’re presumably fairly well informed. What do you think actually happened here? Should we make anything of the fact that the newspaper that headlined and splashed with unsourced reports on 26 names of people who had their phones illicitly penetrated is owned by one of the defendants in the Netanyahu trial?

Right now we have one newspaper that is pushing this forward. It might be true. It might not be. We made the decision to use both the Shin Bet and Mossad [to look into the allegations] because everybody trusts them, because everybody understands this [investigation] must not be biased in any way. We have to wait and see.

We honored our promise to have a committee of investigation for the submarine scandal — years after the whole thing happened. So, [on the spyware allegations,] it’s okay if we wait a few days to make sure that we are following the right approach.

When you look at the issues, Israelis agree upon more than ever before

You think maybe things are changing, and people are talking more consensually rather than [arguing] left/right. But I don’t think Israel is moving from the right toward the center. You do?

Yes. Let me put it this way. When you look at the issues, Israelis agree upon more than ever before: 80% of Israelis will tell you that if you know how to separate from the Palestinians without touching Jerusalem, no right of return, and security arrangements we can trust, go for it. The same 80% will tell you, we understand that capitalism might not be aesthetic, but it’s the only system that brings value and therefore we’re for it. But we want health, welfare and education to be governmental. The same 80% will tell you we want Israel to have a Jewish nature, but not Jewish coercion.

Still, at the same time that we move towards each other, with our views and worldview, the political conundrum, the political fistfight, has become more and more bitter and more and more toxic. So this is where we have to go and fix what is wrong. It’s not left and right, it’s identity politics, it’s the use of fear. It’s very personal and it shouldn’t be. Politics should be about [the interests of] the people, not about the politicians.

The source of this toxicity is still largely this one man, Benjamin Netanyahu?

No, because it doesn’t happen only here. It’s the horrific ease with which you can modify the discourse and manipulate the people. Lapid walks over to a bookcase and brings back an open copy of Sigmund Freud’s “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.” You know you always have the two books that you are reading? This is one of mine right now. I just told myself I had to go and reread this because all this is in there. By the way, he was such a genius that people sometimes miss he was also a great writer.

So you’re saying it’s very easy to manipulate us all?

Yes.

Even more so now than when he was writing.

True.

Obviously it happens in many other countries. But I’m asking you, the master manipulator here, in your opinion, is still Netanyahu?

Yes, of course. And what Prime Minister Bennett called the machine is still out there and yet not as much. It’s losing relevancy. The pony is the same pony. The trick is not as good.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid next to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at a Knesset session in memory of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Do you think Netanyahu will be able to come back politically?

I guess not. I don’t think about it unless somebody asks me. We have things to do, a country to run. A crisis on the Ukraine-Russian border. By nature, as you know, media is drawn to faces. It needs to put a face to any problem. Governments need to solve problems. It’s a very different mechanism.

You’ve got this tiny coalition, with all kinds of strains. Its big test was the budget, and the budget was passed. It seems to you fairly stable for the foreseeable future?

I guess so. I think what we’re going to find is a very functional government and a not-so-functional coalition. It sounds or seems to be the same thing. It is not. There’s a lot of maintenance needed for a 61-strong coalition. We’re going to lose some votes, and then we’re going to come back and win the same votes — as we did with the IDF draft bill [for ultra-Orthodox service] and the citizenship bill. The process is going to be painful every now and then. The problem is that when you have a 61-member coalition, every Knesset member is number 61. So you have to deal with this on a daily basis.

Are you confident that you’re going to become prime minister?

That’s not the important issue. The important issue is for us to have a functional government for the next four years. That’s crucial for this country’s stability and well-being. If that happens, then I’ll be prime minister. It comes with the package, but the package is more important than my own position.

I believe that I’ve signed a contract with people I trust and therefore it will happen. And the only reason people are still asking me this is because for the last 13 years, we got so used to the concept that a word is not a word, an agreement is not an agreement, everything you sign is just a piece of paper. I happen to see the world differently… We have done the “pretentious” thing of creating something [with this coalition government] that we think has a moral value. And I believe in moral values. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Bennett spoke in very nice terms about you — that you’re a mensch and that as far as it depends on him, he will honor the rotation deal. Is the prime minister a mensch?

Oh, yes, very much so. And a friend and a smart man. Today we had a roundtable about the Ukrainian crisis, and at one point I couldn’t help thinking to myself, I wish the people of Israel could see how he’s conducting this and handling this and leading this; they would understand they’re in very good hands.

Let’s talk about world affairs. It seems that there’s a feckless world doing nothing as Russia is about to move in on somebody else’s country. 

This is very 20th century, one country invading another. We thought we were beyond this. Now, I’m going to be more cautious about this than any other foreign minister in the Western world, probably, because I have a problem no one else has, which is two huge Jewish communities [in Russia and Ukraine] that we need to be able to protect.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, welcomes Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, prior to their talks in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP)

Basically, I’m all for any kind of peaceful resolution to the issue. We need to listen to everybody. We need to understand what the Russians are saying about their fears of Ukraine becoming a NATO country. Maybe we disagree, but it’s a valid fear and we need to discuss it with them. And we need to listen carefully to Ukraine, when they say we are a sovereign state and you cannot solve things by force these days.

You, the foreign minister of Israel, are unable to say to me, We would strongly oppose Russia crossing into Ukrainian territory?

We strongly oppose any country invading another and trying to conquer not only territory, but also conquer the solutions to the problems that need to be discussed in a peaceful way. Yes, of course I can say that.

But there are particular sensitivities for Israel, and therefore you have to speak carefully?

Yes.

And when I say to you, it seems like the world is doing nothing to protect a sovereign country, is that not the case?

I’m looking at Ukraine and saying, thank God for the IDF and for our ability to defend ourselves

I think Israel needs to remember this: Israel needs to be able to protect itself, by itself. In the last speech my father gave as head of Yad Vashem, he said, You know what the world is going to do if Israel is destroyed? They’re going to send a nice letter. And he was right. And maybe they’d give some nice speeches in the UN.

So I’m looking at Ukraine and saying, Thank God for the IDF and for our ability to defend ourselves.

Your point is: We will not find ourselves in their position.

Yes. The United States is our greatest ally and I trust them completely, and they are a godsend. But Israel will defend itself by itself and always must have the power to do so.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hosts Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova in Jerusalem, Febraury 13, 2022 (via Twitter)

And what’s happening now in Ukraine and facing Russia reminds you of that, and makes you feel proud and reassured where Israel is concerned?

When I think about Ukraine, I think probably the first association is Babi Yar. There will be no Babi Yar in the State of Israel. Whatever the rest of the world may do or may think.

So that kind of brings us on to Iran.

Yes (laughs wryly), it brings us on to Iran.

The Times of Israel interviewed the American ambassador a few days ago. The one time that this very genial and warm American ambassador was steely was when I said to him, Basically the sense among many in Israel is that you guys don’t get it. Why are you trying to get back to a deal when you acknowledge you need a longer, stronger one? He said, We get it. He was quite firm on that point. Do you think the Americans get it? Are you confident that they’re not going to agree to something that is incredibly problematic for Israel vis-à-vis Iran and its nuclear program?

We have disagreements with the Americans about where they’re going with this, but what we have succeeded in doing is making our views heard and also translated into the process while maintaining our freedom to act whenever in whatever form. It’s a complicated structure of relationship.

From left: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan take part in a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, on October 13, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP/via Getty Images)

At the beginning, we felt that they were moving towards “less for less” or “different for different.” They had so many names [for the accord they were seeking]. At one point I said to one of the senior American officials, In Judaism, sometimes when a kid is very sick you go to the rabbi and the rabbi tells you to change his name. So you’re now calling it “less for less,” or “freeze for freeze,” but changing the name doesn’t change the problem. We felt that maybe they were rushing too much.

I realize that for us, [Iran’s nuclear weapons drive] is the main issue, it’s the main threat. If somebody were to ask me, okay, foreign minister, what’s the one thing you feel that you have to deal with every single day, it would be this. Whereas, for the Americans, it’s an obstacle on the way to China through Ukraine. When this administration came into power, they said our number one issue is China, number two is climate, number three will be Iran, and then everything else.

We’ve been telling them, okay, but the right way to negotiate this is patiently and by being tough. I’m not saying they were not patient or tough. I’m just saying there are so many ways of dealing with this.

We’ve also told them we’re not against an agreement per se. We’re just against an agreement that we know by now is not as effective as many people, or you, [the Americans,] felt it was going to be.

What we’re doing is balancing the disagreement with the fact that we are also cooperating with our closest ally and maintaining our freedom of action. So it’s not a very simple affair.

The regional relationships that were starting to widen — partly, I think, because people figured that since the Americans and the Israelis are standing firm against Iran, that’s where we want to be — seem to have stalled, presumably because there is less confidence in this region that the Americans, at least, are standing firmly.

No, I’m not sure I agree with the premise of your question.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid walks with Bahraini King Hamid bin Issa al Khalifa, during the first high-level visit to the small Gulf state by a senior Israeli official since the signing of a landmark agreement to establish diplomatic ties between the two countries last year, in Manama, Bahrain, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. (Shlomi Amshalem/GPO via AP)

I think the agreements happened for three reasons. One is, of course, the [desire for a strong] alliance with the United States, but this is at best one-third of it. Another is because Israel is a regional power not to be ignored — technologically, economically, Israeli innovation is a big thing, our ability to help other countries with their security is a big thing. The kind of phone calls I was getting after the Houthis tried to send missiles into highly populated areas in the Emirates make for an interesting example.

But the third reason is the fact that people who live here in the region, sometimes unlike people who live further away, understand that the Palestinians are sitting on their own hands, being a non-positive force, while we’re trying to find ways to improve their lives and for them to start the painful process of nation-building. So in the neighborhood, people were looking at this up close and saying, Okay, if they’re not doing anything for their own good, why should we be loyal to something that is not going to happen?

I am still a believer in the two-state solution. It might be a different [version of that] solution than others see, but the one-state solution is not the solution, it’s the destruction of the Zionist idea. And I happen to be a Zionist.

My worldview? It should happen: I am still a believer in the two-state solution. It might be a different [version of that] solution than others see, but the one-state solution is not the solution, it’s the destruction of the Zionist idea. And I happen to be a Zionist.

I think we’re going to see more of this [normalization], with other countries, and a deepening of relations with the countries that we’ve already [signed agreements with].

Which other countries?

Well, everybody is of course always talking about the Saudis, and talking about Indonesia. Interesting country. There will be some smaller countries — Comoros, Maldives, Oman. We are waiting to see how things evolve in Sudan. It’s a process. With these issues, you work for three, four, five, six, 10 years, and then it happens in two weeks.

Amnesty’s apartheid report: Just a bunch of antisemites sitting down and writing something that is totally untrue

Amnesty’s report [accusing Israel of practicing apartheid against the Palestinians]. What did you make of that?

Usually I hate using the “antisemites” card because it’s so easy to break down the arguments in such reports to pieces. But here, a) the report is so long, b) it’s so biased. It’s just a bunch of antisemites sitting down and writing something that is totally untrue.

It is totally untrue to the point at which Mansour Abbas, the head of the Islamic Movement’s political party, which is part of our coalition, said on record, Well, I have a lot of problems with Israel, but it’s not an apartheid state. And Esawi Frej, a Muslim minister in our government, also said, Are you kidding me? Israel has many problems but it’s not an apartheid state. And then I looked at the Muslim Knesset members and the Muslim Supreme Court Justice. It’s crazy that we’re even discussing it.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, June 21, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Israel is not right about everything. Israel is far from being perfect. But this report was totally amateurish. They bought every lie that those terrorist organizations have been trying to sell to everyone for two decades. Nobody was buying because they said, listen, we checked the facts, this has nothing to do with reality. So [Amnesty in this report] became like the trash can of all the false allegations that nobody else was even willing to touch anymore because they were so obviously [false].

But is it damaging for Israel?

I don’t think so, actually. They went over the top. And sometimes when you go over the top, it doesn’t work anymore. I’m not worried about this. I’m extremely worried about a kid on an American campus that is listening to people who are comparing Black Lives Matter to Palestinian Lives Matter and doesn’t have enough information to understand how strange this comparison is. I’m not worried about reports by this kind of irrelevant movement. Now, Amnesty used to be an organization that we used to take seriously. It’s not automatic for me to [be so dismissive], but in the last 15 years, something terrible has happened to them.

In May, the army knocked down a building in Gaza that housed AP and other international media outlets. And it did so without material being made available to the world to understand why it had done so. Is that something you’re changing? Because those are the kinds of things that do impact students on campus.

I agree. We were not in government in May. It was the former government. Coming into the Foreign Ministry, one of the first things I said was this is not going to happen to us anymore. We have to have a roundtable with the army and with others and to make sure — if you have to act against anything to save lives, okay, but do it in a smarter way. With each of these operations [against terror groups in Gaza], I said, we’re always making the same mistake. We bring in somebody from the IDF Spokesperson’s office to explain [to the watching world] what is happening, because when Israelis see somebody in uniform on television, they feel reassured and safe. But in England or in the United States, when you see somebody in uniform, it feels very different.

We need another way of handling this. We need to make sure that everybody understands the implications of any action that they take. We’ve done a lot of work to make sure the process is better. And I hope it will be, because it was a disaster.

The potential repercussions for Israel’s international standing are henceforth going to be taken into account when deciding on tactical operative steps?

No, I’m saying we’re going to be more professional…

When the army decides we’re going to knock down that building, is there now a meeting where somebody says beforehand, Have we taken into account how that’s going to play out? Are we sure it’s worth it?

There is a process for everything. Israel discusses other aspects of operational actions more than any country in the world. This is why we have good results, unlike what they say about us, in terms of not hurting or hitting bystanders. We sometimes fight in very densely populated areas. If you look at our numbers in terms of being able to avoid killing innocent civilians — war is war and people are going to be hurt, and this is terrible. And every child who dies in Gaza breaks my heart. Children should not die in grownups’ wars. The statistics are better than the British or the Americans’ or anyone else’s. And this is because we take things into account. This is because we discuss.

I was a cabinet member in 2013-14. I was on the intelligence subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. And I’m telling you, there’s no other country in the world that discusses international law, the need to protect the innocent, international statutes, more than Israel does.

We started out talking about Ukraine and the Israelis and the Jews. So let’s circle back to the Jews and the Diaspora: Israel wants to be seen as the homeland for all the Jews, but it is still alienating non-Orthodox Jews. The Western Wall compromise has died the death…

It has not. I’m going to push it forward as much as I can. And it will happen, I believe. In the same way, I’m going to push the conversion [to Judaism] bill and anything that equalizes the [status of the] Reform and Conservative movements in Israeli law. It doesn’t happen in a day.

I’m going to push [the Western Wall compromise] and I’m obligated to the subject. Israel cannot be the only democracy in the Western world in which Jews do not have freedom of religion

I have an okay record in making happen things nobody believed would happen. This month we advanced the [IDF] draft bill that I was working on for 10 years, and bills for disabled children and their families that I was working on for eight years. Then there’s the little matter of this government, that everybody said was ridiculous, that it could never happen, that Lapid is making a fool of himself. I could open a factory making hats for people to eat on this one.

So, yes, I’m going to push [the Western Wall compromise] and I’m obligated to the subject. Israel cannot be the only democracy in the Western world in which Jews do not have freedom of religion. But it’s a complicated [issue], for a very complicated coalition that has eight diverse parties in it.

Yesterday, I spoke with Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès. They have seven parties in their coalition. I told her we are envious.

So yes, it’s going to take time. Maybe if it’s not going to happen in this government, it is going to happen in the next one, but it’s going to happen. It’s not something I’m doing for the Diaspora. It’s something I’m doing for me, for my children, for the kind of Israel I want my country to be.

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