Yair Lapid, the finance minister of Israel and rising centrist star, is getting sick access in the U.S. Lapid met with the vice president yesterday, in the middle of the shutdown, and they apparently got along. The veep tweeted the above picture and put out a statement saying they had a “wide-ranging conversation,” including on Iran and Palestinian negotiations. They were joined by Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew and White House Middle East Coordinator Phil Gordon.
Lapid is a former television personality, and it shows. Charlie Rose spent a lot of time with Lapid Tuesday. First on the Charlie Rose show. Then at the 92d Street Y, co-presented by the pro-Israel group, Israel Policy Forum.
Rose introduced Lapid to the 92d Street Y as “one of the most famous Jews in the world.” The interview (video here) was mostly softballs, and Lapid batted them easily to all parts of the field, like he was hosting the talk show.
He joked effortlessly about Rose’s southern accent, brushed him off when he asked if he aspires to be Prime Minister, and mocked the New York Times for quoting no one out of context. But his positions are little different from Netanyahu’s, and it’s not long before Lapid starts talking about the city of David.
He’s a hardliner on Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem will never be divided. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Countries do not give up on their capitals… But there will be yes– some territories will be returned…”
Rose: “You do not favor Jerusalem as a capital for both Palestinians and Israelis.”
Gaza isn’t part of any Palestinian state he can imagine.
Gaza is not in the game. There is no negotiation with Hamas. Hamas is a … terrorist organization and should be treated as such.
Nor is the Jordan Valley. “Security.”
He’s also a hardliner on Iran.
“The problem we have with Iran…is that they are building nuclear weapons… and they’re financing Hamas and Hizbullah… I think deceit and fraud was always part of the strategic tools [for Iran].”
Lapid said that Iran must do two simple things to end sanctions. Give up all its centrifuges, 18,000 of them, and give up its plutonium reactor. “Because no one is using plutonium reactors for a peaceful purpose.”
His attitudes about Israel are very ethnic-chauvinist. His father escaped the Holocaust in Budapest, and he loves living in a Jewish state.
“Listen, I’m not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, I’m looking for a divorce. The concept of ruling… about 3 million Palestinians is problematic to the Jewish identity of Israel, and I want to live in a Jewish state…”
What worries you most about Israel’s future? Rose asked. A big part of Lapid’s answer is, Arabs.
“I would say education…. This year 49 percent of the first graders are either ultra orthodox or Arab. This is I don’t want to say an existential threat but it is an existential change in Israel. And we have to make sure that everyone will be participants in the Israeli game… So yes the internal threats are more threatening to me than the external.”
And when Lapid says that he is constantly reaching out to other parties to work with them, he means other Jewish parties, from Likud to Jewish Home to Labor. Why doesn’t Charlie Rose ask whether he talks to the Palestinian parties, and if not, why not? Rose is countenancing the same sort of discrimination he opposed as a boy in North Carolina.
Lapid says that rightwinger Naftali Bennett is a friend, and Netanyahu’s government will not collapse before its term expires. “There’s good energy and willingness to work together…”
The first question from the audience is, “Why can’t you divide the city of Jerusalem?”
The answer was ethno-religious doctrine, and a little scary:
“[If we] assume that everything is rational… then– I might be better off living in New York. You know, Israel was created at the beginning as the safe haven for Jews in the world. I don’t think it’s a safe haven. I mean New York is a safer place to be a Jew. I am living in Israel because I want to live in a country that is not only a place but also an idea. And Jerusalem is the essence of this idea. Yes, there are…rational reasons to say OK I’m giving up on eastern Jerusalem, but countries cannot survive without ethos and the ethos of Israel is in eastern the Jerusalem. This is King David’s city. This is– You know what, our right of return is also accountable — and we have returned to Jerusalem. I like Tel Aviv where I live but we did not come back after 2000 years for Tel Aviv, we came back for Jerusalem.
Strong applause from the $29-a-head audience.
Lapid also says he believes in God and he reads the bible “a lot.” Because the bible is full of heroes, and our world is one of “anti-heroes.” Yes, and he would prefer to live in an idea, not a country. There’s a lot more gloss than Netanyahu, but the ethos is the same.