Yair Lapid gave his first televised speech as prime minister on Saturday night, decrying ‘extreme, violent and vicious’ speech in Israeli politics and calling for unity and respectful public debate, ahead of the country’s fifth election in three and a half years.
Speaking from the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Lapid said Israel sought peace with the Palestinians, but would take determined action against anyone “seeking our demise”, particularly to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.
Lapid, who replaced Naftali Bennett on Friday and became Israel’s 14th prime minister after the dissolution of the Knesset, is serving in an interim post until a new government is formed after elections on November 1, although this vote could potentially be deadlocked again and prolong the country’s political stalemate for years.
“The State of Israel is bigger than all of us. More important than any of us. It was there before us and will be here long after us,” he said on Saturday, adding, “We must choose the common good; what unites us. There will always be disagreements, the question is how do we deal with them and how do we make sure they don’t rule us.
“The big Israeli question is actually why, at a time when we have broad national agreement on all important issues, are the levels of hatred and anxiety within Israeli society so high? Why is polarization more threatening than ever? He continued.
“The answer is – politics. In Israel, extremism does not come from the streets to politics. It’s the contrary. It flows like lava from politics to the streets. The political sphere has become increasingly extreme, violent and vicious, and it is dragging Israeli society down with it. This we must stop. This is our challenge. »
Lapid speech, full text: We must stop the flow of extremism from politics to the streets
It was an apparent reference to the rhetoric spearheaded by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who waged a scathing campaign against the ideologically diverse government that ousted him a year ago, focusing particularly on the willingness of Lapid and Bennett to form a coalition with the Islamists. Ra’am Festival.
Lapid opened his speech by thanking his predecessor Bennett – with whom he had signed a power-sharing deal for a leadership rotation – 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 last year to economic and security achievements not seen here in years,” he said, adding “a special thank you for enabling citizens to to see an orderly transition this week between people who keep agreements and believe in each other.
It was a blow to Netanyahu, who broke a 2020 rotation of power deal with Benny Gantz and held only a brief 30-minute transition meeting with new Prime Minister Bennett last year.
Lapid outlined what he believes should be the common goal of Israelis: “A Jewish, democratic, liberal, big, strong, advanced and prosperous Israel.”
“We believe Israel should be a liberal democracy in which every citizen has the right to change their government and decide the course of their lives. No one can be deprived of their fundamental rights: respect, freedom, freedom of employment and the right to personal security,” he said.
“We believe that Israel is a Jewish state,” he added. “His character is Jewish. His identity is Jewish. Its relations with its non-Jewish citizens are also Jewish. The book of Leviticus says, “But the stranger who dwells with you will be to you as one born among you, and you will love him as yourself.”
“We believe that the Israeli economy should be based on free market principles, on the creativity and dynamism of Israeli technology, and that our job is to protect those who have nothing. Providing a fair chance for every child, everywhere.
In a radically different stance from Netanyahu on peace talks with the Palestinians, Lapid said, “We believe that as long as Israel’s security needs are met, Israel is a country that seeks peace. Israel reaches out to all the peoples of the Middle East, including the Palestinians, and says: now is the time for you to recognize that we will never move from here, let’s learn to live together.
Referring to normalization agreements with Arab countries signed by Netanyahu’s previous government – and hinting at potential future similar agreements, Lapid said: “We believe there is a great blessing in the Abraham Accords, a great blessing in the security and economic momentum created in the Negev. Summit with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco, and that there will be a great blessing in the agreements to come.
Such a deal is reportedly in the works with Saudi Arabia, with US President Joe Biden due to visit the two countries later this month.
Lapid paid tribute to “our greatest friend and ally, the United States,” and pledged to mobilize the international community in the “fight against anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel.”
Lapid said Israel’s most serious threat was Iran, promising: “We will do whatever we must to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability or entrenching itself on our borders.”
“I say to all who seek our disappearance, from Gaza to Tehran, from the coasts of Lebanon to Syria: do not test us. Israel knows how to use its force against every threat, against every enemy,” he warned.
Netanyahu’s Likud party issued a response criticizing Lapid’s speech, saying he had failed to deal with the “crazy” price hike over the past year, and alleging he was trying to “hide the fact that the only government he can form is with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Joint List. The Arab-majority Joint List party has never been part of an Israeli coalition government.
“On Friday it was revealed that he had sent his chief of staff Naama Schultz to the [Islamic Movement’s] Shura Council with an open check,” the Likud statement read, referring to comments by a former Bennett diplomatic adviser regarding the Muslim body the Ra’am party adheres to.
“Such a government is a real danger to Israel’s security,” Likud said. “The choice is a blackmailed Lapid government that includes the Muslim Brotherhood and the Joint List or a strong national government led by Netanyahu and Likud that will restore hope to Israel.
Likud also took issue with Lapid’s failure to mention that the Abraham Accords were signed under Netanyahu’s government, arguing that Lapid had “maintained a deafening silence” about the Iranian threat during the past year, and claimed that Lapid’s rhetoric and actions had been divisive.