Analysis: Yair Lapid becomes Israel’s fourteenth prime minister

Yair Lapid > Sapir Academic College, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist liberal Yesh Atid party, became Israel’s fourteenth prime minister last week, following the dissolution of the Knesset.

What happened

  • Lapid became prime minister following the collapse of the coalition government headed by Naftali Bennett, in which Lapid served as foreign minister.
  • Lapid will remain as Israel’s foreign minister while he is prime minister.
  • Lapid technically serves as interim prime minister until a new coalition government can be formed after 1 November, when Israel’s fifth election in three years will take place.
  • “Congratulations to Yair Lapid, Israel’s new prime minister”, tweeted US President Joe Biden, adding that he “looked forward” to seeing Lapid on his visit to Israel later this month.
  • Lapid’s appointment followed the outgoing government’s coalition agreement, which saw Naftali Bennett assume the title of Alternate Prime Minister, a title Lapid held during Bennett’s tenure.
  • Lapid, 58, is a former journalist who served as Leader of the Opposition from 2020 to 2021, after which he oversaw the construction of the coalition government led by Bennett.
  • Before entering politics in 2012, he was an author, TV present and news anchor.
  • Lapid’s Yesh Atid party represents the centre-ground of Israeli politics, with liberal and secular policies including anti-corruption reforms, environmentalism, LGBT+ rights, economic liberalisation and ending military draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox.
  • His party supports a negotiated two-state solution that ensures Israel’s security.
  • In taking office, Lapid represents the most progressive prime minister of Israel in more than two decades.
First things first

Lapid’s first stop after becoming prime minister was the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust remembrance memorial. In a ceremony, he lit the Flame of Remembrance and “promised [his] father that [he] will always keep Israel strong and capable of defending itself and protecting its children”. Lapid’s father, former justice minister Tommy Lapid, was a Holocaust survivor.

Mr President

Lapid also visited the residence of Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog. A former Labor leader and Leader of the Opposition himself, Herzog used his remarks to remind the country that having five elections in three years is “very unhealthy” for a democratic state, adding that “we must remember before all, first and foremost, that there’s a country to run”. Herzog also referred to previous political clashes between himself and Lapid, which Lapid had replied always been kept “for the good of the state of Israel” and were not personal.

Setting out his stall

In a speech on Saturday night, Lapid laid out a set of beliefs that he said bind Israelis of all ideologies, as well as his diagnosis for continued divisions within Israeli society.

  • “In Israel, extremism doesn’t come from the streets to politics. It’s the opposite”, he asserted, continuing: “it flows like lava from politics to the streets. The political sphere has become more and more extreme, violent and vicious, and it is dragging Israeli society along with it. This we must stop. This is our challenge.”
  • In his speech, Lapid said Israelis agreed that their country should be “Jewish, democratic, liberal, strong, advanced and prosperous”.
  • He also listed urgent issues facing the country including the danger posed by Iran, terrorism within Israel, ongoing disruption due to education strikes, and the high cost of living.
  • Lapid laid out a view for relations with Israel’s Arab community too, quoting from the Book of Leviticus: “But the stranger who dwells with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself”.
  • Addressing Israel’s long-running conflict with the Palestinians, he also spoke directly: “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 recognise that we’ll never move from here, let’s learn to live together’.”
What happens next

Lapid will have until November to demonstrate his suitability for the premiership as Israel’s most liberal leader in more than two decades. His tenure will likely extend beyond the next election, as long as it takes to form a new coalition government. Whether he will lead that government will be the judgment of Israel’s voters – informed by his record over the next four months.