Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Lapid Factor

Below I've posted an excellent morning-after summary of the electoral mood of Israel, from TBE's Jan Gaines. Jan and I often stand on different sides of the political spectrum, but I agree with this assessment 100%. Lapid is someone I've been keeping an eye on and he is legit on many of the issues that are near and dear to American Jews, including religious pluralism.  I opened my Kol Nidre Sermon with a story Lapid recalled at APIAC, where he spoke eloquently about his father's miraculous escape from the Nazis as a child in Budapest.  He also spoke to Conservative rabbis at the Rabbinical Assembly convention last spring.  That in itself was remarkable for an Israeli politician.  He is, as Jan mentions, a member of a Conservative (Masorti) shul in Israel.  

Here's a where Lapid talks about religious pluralism and why it's important.

In the end, Lapid is a politician and may give in to the temptations of the moment.  But never before has there been more potential to bridge the gaps between ultra-Orthodox and modernists - a group that includes secular Israelis and progressive or modern Orthodox Jews who want to engage the modern world rather than flee it or deny its existence.  

If you want to hear more about Lapid's vision in his own words, his recent column in the Times of Israel.

Here's Jan's report:

Dear Friends,

  The Israeli elections are over and while the results are not official but rather based on exit polls, the outcome is pretty well known.  Likud took a hit and both Labor and the new Yesh Atid (meaning "There is a future") Yair Lapid party came out strong.

  I want to emphasize that while American Jewish left wing groups like J Street may be celebrating,  this election was not at all about the Palestinian problem. Most Israelis know nothing can happen unless the Palestinians are willing to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist. And that isn't happening.

  Rather, this election was about domestic issues.  The big one, and the one which brought Yesh Atid into existence, is the issue of who serves in the army and in national service;  who doesn't, and where the money is going to subsidize those who don't serve in either one. Add to that the high cost of housing,the problems with the education system, and the deeply resented power of the ultra-Orthodox over conversion, marriage and divorce, and you have the reasons for the turn to center and left. And this is a good thing for the health of the country.  If the eventual coalition that Netanyahu forms excludes Shas, that will be reason enough for the outcome of this election.

  Lapid has stated emphatically that he will not bring his party into a coalition that includes Shas.  And since he is now in a very strong position to form a new coalition, that may actually happen.  Perhaps we are seeing, finally, a weakening of the strangle hold that Shas and other ultra Orthodox parties have had on the country.

  It is also interesting to note the composition of the Yesh Atid party, which Lapid put together. The No. 2 person is an Orthodox rabbi and the No. 17 person (who never expected to make it into the Knesset) is an American Haredi rabbi who has vowed to work for equal treatment for Reform and Conservative (Masorti) Judaism.  There are 2 Ethiopians, several women, Russians and activists for social change.  And Lapid himself goes to a Masorti synagogue in Tel Aviv!

  As for the Labor party, the oldest, veteran party in the country, the leader is a former  female TV commentator (like Lapid) who campaigned totally on local issues, especially demanding that the 2013 budget include funding for all of the social issues I've mentioned, with housing and education emphasized.  Labor is where the young activists from the demonstrations two summers ago landed.

  Netanyahu was smart in not doing anything about draft reform and housing reform until after the election, taking a chance that he would garner more support in the future.  He was very mistaken to have formed an alliance with Israel Beitenu whose leader, Liberman, helped to bring down the Likud as a result. But Bibi is a canny politician and will be able to maneuver Likud into a coaltion with Lapid and Labor hopefully. 

   Finally, it appears that the Anglo Israeli population voted for both Lapid and secondarily Bibi.  From my own group of friends and acquaintances, it was overwhelmingly Lapid where previously they had been Likud voters, and only secondarily Likud and coming in 3rd was Labor.In Raanana according to the J Post it was similar with Likud preferred and Naftali Bennett who comes from Raanana, coming in strong.  Bennett did not do as well with his Strong Home party, to the right of Likud but he did revive the dormant national religious body of voters who had almost faded away.

  So that is my take on the election.  The official results will be announced either today or tomorrow.  After the paper ballots have been counted.  I get a real kick out of the system here. There are no voting machines.  Each of the 32 parties running had a Hebrew letter or letters as identifying each one.  You come into the voting booth, take one of the slips with the letter of your party on it, put it into an envelope, seal it and drop it into a cardboard box. Wow!! Antiquated?  At least there aren't any" hanging chads."  But Israel is a small country and can easily handle the primitive looking system. I myself panic every time because the identifying letters are not translated into English (or French) but only Russian and Arabic. So I had to memorize again and again the Hebrew letters before I went into the booth and then read them over several times to be sure I had the right letters for the party I wanted.  If you don't read Hebrew, you're in big trouble although I'm sure one of the official volunteers would help you.

  And in the end, it was a wonderful day. Everyone gets off work, the stores are open and running sales, and the weather was a gorgeous 74 degrees so everyone took their kids to a national park, zoo or nature reserve. After they voted  of course.

With about 66% voter turnout, that's better than the U.S.  More importantly, it shows that Israelis are thoughtful and want to make a real difference in their lives.  Democracy here may be chaotic but somehow it works.

  Jan Gaines

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