Yair Lapid stumping for spot as education minister

Yair Lapid stumping for spot as education minister

The former Channel 2 television host presented himself as a candidate for the Knesset and the leader of Israel’s ‘sane center’

Yair Lapid speaking at the MIT Enterprise Forum, February 21, 2012. (photo credit: Bar Haim, Courtesy MIT Enterprise Forum)
Yair Lapid speaking at the MIT Enterprise Forum, February 21, 2012. (photo credit: Bar Haim, Courtesy MIT Enterprise Forum)

Yair Lapid will not be Israel’s next prime minister, at least if Yair Lapid is to be believed.

The journalist-cum-politician gave what may be his most candid stump speech to date Wednesday night, telling an audience at Tel Aviv University that he would seek to become education minister should he make it into the Knesset.

“Foreign Minister would be acceptable as well,” he said. “But not Finance Minister.”

Lapid, who will likely form his own centrist party to run in the next elections, was speaking at a meeting of the MIT Enterprise Forum in Israel, which provides entrepreneurs with advice and consultation services on starting and growing a business.

The evening was ostensibly dedicated to discussing the challenges Israeli hi-tech faces in 2012. Lapid, according to the schedule, was to speak on the subject of “Where is the money in Israeli hi-tech?” but his entire presentation, as well as questions presented to him by the live audience and on the Forum’s Facebook page, revolved around the details of what a Lapid-led party would look like.

Lapid called for a party that would toe the center line of the country’s political spectrum, a “sane center” which would “take back the country from sectors and tribes who have been extorting us.”

“They are trying to make us feel like a tribe as well,” Lapid said, referring to the largely secular crowd. “But we are not a tribe. We are the majority, and we will take this country back.”

The words echoed Lapid’s first stump speech last week, in which he lashed out at ultra-Orthodox party Shas for controlling the coalition with only a few Knesset seats.

He softened his approach toward the ultra-Orthodox Wednesday night, though, saying he had great respect for Israel’s Haredim, but that the country could no longer afford to “carry” their lack of involvement in the army and the workforce.

“We need to make it clear to the Haredim that we accept them in society in all its aspects. But they need to play the ‘Israeli game,’ to take on their fair share,” he said.

Lapid said that he had actually reached out to Hareidim, going to their institutions to make it clear that “I do not hate them.” He took pains to emphasize that he disagreed with the anti-ultra-Orthodox rhetoric his father, the late Tommy Lapid, was known for as head of the Shinui Party. “I know that my family name is a label when it comes to this issue,” he said.

Nevertheless, Lapid said, he would ensure that any government he participated in would require them to “carry the burden,” participating in the army and the workplace. “In 2012 we passed the halfway point. Half the children in this country are studying in the Haredi or Arab school systems,” both of which have not produced students who are capable of entering the hi-tech workplace.

Analysts said a Lapid-led party would garner some dozen seats in a new election when he first left his job as a Channel 2 anchor to enter politics last month, though a newer survey shows that number may be shrinking.

In a spot-poll at the conference, when the evening’s hosts asked for those who would “probably” vote for Lapid’s party, some three quarters of the 300-plus crowd raised their hands

Lapid said that he hoped that his party – which does not yet have a name – would garner some 15 seats in the next Knesset elections, “enough for us to make an impact on the government’s policy.”

The budding politician said that he was much more interested in social policy than the Middle East conflict – and especially education policy. “The government needs to invest much more in education, especially hi-tech education, which is the only investment that actually pays for itself,” Lapid said.

Without better education, he said, Israel did not have a chance to compete in the coming decades against other countries. Other issues Lapid plans to tackle include affordable housing, better health care, and ensuring that the periphery was also included in the hi-tech revolution Israel is undergoing – again, by improving education there.

Lapid, who purposely did not use the term “peace process,” said the outlines of any settlement with the Palestinians were already known.

“[Any settlement needs to be done] intelligently, not haphazardly. Israel’s security needs to be addressed, and the country cannot rush into an agreement,” he said.

Lapid also found some time to discuss high-tech. “I know many people in this audience dream of an ‘exit’ for their company, with some large foreign corporation offering to buy them out. But I dream of more CheckPoints,” Lapid said, referring to the large Israeli security company, known for its development of firewalls.

CheckPoint has remained an Israeli company, and is today the world leader in security technology for servers. “We need to keep our technology here at home, and to build strong companies for Israel.”

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