Yair Lapid, Israel's Rising Star, Is Still Great Unknown in Washington

Newcomer Lived in L.A., But Has Scant Ties to Establishment

Fresh Face: Yair Lapid, the man of the moment in Israel, is still widely unknown in Washington policy circles.
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Fresh Face: Yair Lapid, the man of the moment in Israel, is still widely unknown in Washington policy circles.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 23, 2013.
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In 2008, Lapid returned to Los Angeles as a keynote speaker at a star-studded event honoring Milchan. In his speech he thanked Milchan for “the many things we don’t know” about his work for Israel, apparently hinting to the movie producer’s rumored ties with Israeli intelligence services.

Yair Lapid’s ties with the American Jewish community began to take shape last year, after he announced his intention to enter politics and upon publicly taking on the issue of religious pluralism in Israel. “We saw him as someone who has this issue on his radar and wanted to build a relationship with him early in the game,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly. The group invited Lapid to speak at their conference last May, and Lapid, though already in full campaign mode, agreed to make a 24 hour visit and attend the Rabbinical Assembly conference in Atlanta. By the time he landed in the U.S., Lapid had learned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a last-minute political maneuver, called off the early elections.

In his speech Lapid touched on all the right chords. He told the crowd of Conservative rabbis they are “the last line of defense that believes that Judaism shouldn’t be the jailhouse of ideas, but the liberator of ideas,” and promised to do all in his power “to make it feasible to women, Conservative or Reform, to pray at the wailing wall, wearing their prayer shawls.” Lapid also argued that “the majority of Israelis are actually Conservative, they just don’t know it.”

“We look forward to working with him on these issues,” said Rabbi Schonfeld, who described the leader of Yesh Atid party as “a very bright, possibly brilliant charismatic individual.”

Ties Lapid forged with members of the American Jewish community throughout the years proved helpful when he embarked on his political career. In just one month in 2012, Lapid raised nearly $30,000 from American Jewish supporters and Israeli expatriates living in the United States. One of the notable donors is leading Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt.


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