Yair Lapid
Yair Lapid at ‘Shurat Hadin’ conference in Jerusalem. (photo credit:ODED ANTMAN)


He has succeeded in rallying the Israeli masses, preaching political reform and fighting corruption, while presenting a serious alternative to the political establishment.

But don’t tell Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that he has been compared to US President- elect Donald Trump.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post before Trump’s surprise victory in the American election, Lapid noted that unlike Trump before the election, he has political experience. He formed a new party, served as finance minister, has been in the security cabinet, and is now in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“I don’t know him, but I don’t think the comparison is close to true,” said Lapid, who will be addressing The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference on Wednesday. “Besides us both being in television before we entered politics, I don’t see any similarity. I don’t want to criticize Mr. Trump, but I think that’s a very superficial comparison.”

Nevertheless, Trump and Lapid could end up having more in common if political trends in Israel continue. Polls indicate that Yesh Atid could win more Knesset seats than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the next election, which Lapid expects will take place next year, long before the scheduled date in November 2019.

That could indicate that just like Trump, for Lapid “there is a future” (which is what his party’s name means in Hebrew).

One of the reasons Lapid has risen in the polls is that he has presented himself as a shadow foreign minister in the opposition, effectively arguing the justice of Israel’s cause around the world. To that end, he was careful not to say too much about the American election.

Lapid said he has never met Trump but recalled meeting with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton last year at the Saban Forum in Washington, where she outlined her policies for the Middle East. He said he had met several times with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, and admired his wisdom.

Lapid expressed hope that from now on disputes between Israel and the US would be kept behind closed doors.

“It is okay for friends to have disputes and for countries to act like sovereign countries,” he said. “But exchanging public insults is not a very smart foreign policy for anyone. Tones matter and personal relations are not the most important thing, but they do have an influence. This steady, living and fundamental relationship must be approached anew.”

Lapid has strongly criticized Netanyahu for speaking to Congress about the nuclear deal the world reached with Iran and for not reaching a better Memorandum of Understanding on American military aid to Israel.

“We have to make sure disputes are run behind closed doors and not in the chambers of Congress,” he said. “We have to reopen channels to the White House and State Department. The MoU was mostly handled between our Defense Ministry and the Pentagon, and that did not bring the best of the outcomes.”

Lapid said he would not try to renegotiate the MoU with a different president, because he believes there must be continuity between different administrations and because Israel must express appreciation for the American commitment to provide $38 billion in aid over 10 years.

“We run our own policies, and we are not subservient to anyone, but every now and then we have to say thank you,” he said. “We haven’t done that for a while. For 70 years, they have stood by our side in the fight against evil, so you have to be respectful.”

Lapid said he was glad both presidential candidates said they would not let Iran get nuclear weapons.

“If there is a deal, there has to be a commitment to enforce it and not make everything else Iran is doing kosher,” Lapid said. “Iran is still the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism, helping Hamas and Hezbollah and building itself as a regional superpower. We need the US as an ally to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Asked what advice he would give the next president on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lapid said he wanted the US to mediate a conference aimed at starting a new regional diplomatic process.

“I don’t want anything imposed on Israel,” he said. “The US has earned its right to speak its mind, and that is what friends do. There is accumulated American wisdom, and there are no real negotiations without the Americans. The American role is going to be crucial.”

Lapid said he told the French that he did not back their idea of passing a resolution setting parameters for solving the conflict at the United Nations Security Council. He said he doubted outgoing US President Barack Obama would end up backing that step.

“Instead of helping future negotiations, it would stymie future negotiations,” he said. “I told them there is no coalition and opposition on this. I heard rumors Obama wants to get even with Netanyahu after inconveniences they had, but I don’t think this is true. I think Obama has proven to be a friend of Israel, and due to my work in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I am aware of the extent of the unprecedented security cooperation during his presidency.”

Lapid was less careful in talking about America at a meeting of the Yesh Atid faction on July 4. At the meeting, he told the MKs, “Baseball is not really a sport; it’s people with sticks.”

Speaking after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years, Lapid sounded like he had a bit of a change of heart.

“I still don’t understand the sport, but I understand a good story when it’s presented to me,” he said. “It’s a wonderful story about a curse lifted after 108 years, so I have been reading about the story, and ignoring the game.”

As reported by The Jerusalem Post