In a first televised statement as prime minister, Yair Lapid thanks his predecessor Naftali Bennett for the “orderly transition of power.”
“I want to start by thanking the 13th Prime Minister of the State of Israel, Naftali Bennett. For your decency, for your friendship and for leading the government this past year to economic and security achievements not seen here for years,” he says, adding “a special thank you for allowing the citizens of Israel to see this week an orderly transition between people who keep agreements and believe in one another.”
This is a jab at opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who broke a power rotation agreement with Benny Gantz in 2020.
Lapid sets out what he says should be Israelis’ shared goal: “a Jewish, democratic, liberal, strong, advanced, and prosperous Israel.”
“We believe that Israel must be a liberal democracy in which every citizen has the right to change the government and set the course of their life. Nobody can be denied their fundamental rights: respect, liberty, freedom of employment, and the right to personal security,” he says.
“We believe that Israel is a Jewish state,” he adds. “Its character is Jewish. Its identity is Jewish. Its relations with its non-Jewish citizens are also Jewish. The book of Leviticus says, ‘But the stranger who dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.'”
In a starkly different stance from that of Netanyahu, Lapid now says: “We believe that so long as Israel’s security needs are met, Israel is a country that seeks peace. Israel stretches out its hand to all the peoples of the Middle East, including the Palestinians, and says: the time has come for you to recognize that we’ll never move from here, let’s learn to live together.”
He adds: “We believe there is a great blessing in the Abraham Accords, a great blessing in the security and economic momentum created at the Negev Summit with the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Morocco and that there will be a great blessing in the agreements yet to come.”
He pays tribute to “our greatest friend and ally, the United States,” and vows to “harness the international community in the struggle against “antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel.”
Lapid says Israel’s gravest threat is Iran, and promises: “We’ll do whatever we must to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability, or entrenching itself on our borders.”
He adds: “I say to everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: don’t test us. Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy.”
Then, he turns to domestic politics: “The great Israeli question is actually why in a period in which we have wide national agreement on all the important topics, the levels of hate and anxiety within Israeli society are so high? Why is polarization more threatening than ever?
“The answer is — politics. In Israel, extremism doesn’t come from the streets to politics. It’s the opposite. It flows like lava from politics to the streets. The political sphere has become more and more extreme, violent and vicious, and it’s dragging Israeli society along with it. This we must stop. This is our challenge.”