Incoming Foreign Minister Yair Lapid vowed to repair ties between Israel and “angry” Democrats in the US, saying Israel’s standing in the West had taken a beating under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking at a ceremony where he took over the foreign minister role from Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi, Lapid accused Netanyahu of abandoning the diplomatic corps and leaving it in shambles, while also committing to push ahead with two of the former premier’s landmark projects: opposing the nuclear deal with Iran and forging ties with Arab states under the Abraham Accords.
“In the past years Israel has abandoned its foreign service, abandoned the international arena. And then we woke up one morning to find that our international standing has been weakened,” Lapid charged.
The new government, an unlikely alliance of right-wing, left-wing, centrist, and Islamist parties, was sworn in on Sunday, ending Netanyahu’s 12-year term in office.
The incoming top diplomat, who will become prime minister in 2023 as part of a rotational deal with new prime minister Naftali Bennett, focused on Netanyahu’s moves to seemingly align closely with the Republican Party, which critics say degraded the bipartisan support the Jewish state once enjoyed in Congress.
While enjoying warm ties with US president Donald Trump, Netanyahu bickered publicly with previous president Barack Obama and has had a mostly chilly last few months with current President Joe Biden.
“The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous,” he said. “The Republicans are important to us, their friendship is important to us, but not only the friendship of the Republican party.
“We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House and they are angry. We need to change the way we work with them,” he said.
The Biden administration wasted little time in welcoming the new Israeli government. Biden and Bennett spoke by phone soon after the government passed a confidence vote, as did Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Lapid said ties with Europe had also been left in shambles, panning the outgoing government for its method of dealing with criticism.
“Our relationship with too many governments has been neglected and become hostile. Shouting that everyone is antisemitic isn’t a policy or a work plan, even if it sometimes feels right,” he said.
“We both believe that it is possible, and imperative, to build relations based on mutual respect and better dialogue,” he said.
Lapid added that Israel’s relationship with the Jewish Diaspora, especially in the US, must change. “The support of Christian evangelicals and other groups is important and heart-warming, but the Jewish people are more than allies, they are family,” he said, referring to Netanyahu’s extensive and decades-long embrace of Christian evangelicals.
“Jews from all streams, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, are our family. And family is always the most important relationship, and the one that needs to be worked on more than any other,” Lapid said.
He also appeared to court better ties with Jordan, praising King Abdullah as “an important strategic ally,” and promising to work with him. Ties between Jerusalem and Amman were frigid at best over the last several years and Abdullah reportedly had little patience for Netanyahu.
But Lapid added that Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians will be a defining factor in the nation’s ties with other countries, likely referring to the sensitivity in the Arab and Muslim world surrounding the ongoing conflict.
“We might not be expecting a final status agreement soon but there is a lot we can do to improve the lives of the Palestinians and the dialogue with them on civil issues,” he said.
Lapid continued by saying that the world doesn’t always understand how Israel operates when it comes to a military escalation, specifically mentioning the latest round of fighting in Gaza. “We’ll try to change that. It won’t happen overnight, it won’t take a month, but faced with the disgraceful propaganda against us we will need to make clear to the world that we are fighting a sick terror organization that has no problem firing rockets from kindergartens and schools,” he said.
On the topic of Iran, Lapid said Israel “will do whatever it takes” to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear bomb, and added that the country must prepare quickly for the return of the nuclear deal. “It was a bad deal. I opposed it. I still oppose it. Israel could have, with a different approach, influenced it far more,” Lapid said, lamenting the former prime minister’s diplomatic approach.
“Israel has a strong story. The facts are on our side,” Lapid concluded. “We are a vibrant, peace-seeking democracy that is fighting for its life against the darkest forces of terror in the world.”