Israel’s new finance minister, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, gave his first Knesset speech as a cabinet minister on Monday, April 22, the opening day of the parliament’s spring session, and in defiance of longstanding tradition, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Longtime Knesset observers say they can’t remember ever hearing such a frontal, direct confrontation with the Haredi parties from the Knesset rostrum.
Beforehand, the session heard six opposition motions of no-confidence, including several attacks on Lapid’s government budget proposal. Meir Porush of the opposition United Torah Judaism party (the seated man with the white beard; to his right, with a black beard, is UTJ’s Moshe Gafni) complained about the impact of the budget on Israel’s security and also charged that the government was “starving children.” Instead of defending his budget proposal, Lapid delivered a stinging, sarcastic attack on the Haredi parties.
If you understand Hebrew, it’s worth watching. In fact, even if you don’t understand Hebrew well, you can watch it while following along with my translation, which appears after the jump. Lapid’s exchange with the Haredi lawmakers goes up to 7:15. After that he begins to respond to a no-confidence motion of MK Moshe Mizrahi of Labor. I stopped translating after a few sentences of this exchange, because it starts getting into budget technicalities.
For context, you can read this Haaretz report on the proposed cuts in government budgets for Haredim. Also worth reading: this column on the speech and its fallout by Jerusalem Post commentator Ben Caspit, as well as we this one by Haaretz Jewish World writer Anshel Pfeffer on the challenges facing Lapid and this one by Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger looking at ways Lapid and the Haredim can find common ground. But above all, watch Lapid, Porush and UTJ’s Israel Eichler go at each other. It’s great theater.
And my translation:
(The chairman, Deputy Speaker Meir Shetreet of Hatnuah, announces that there are six no-confidence motions, Finance Minister Yair Lapid will respond to questions A, B and C and then Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis of Likud, the government’s Knesset liaison, will respond to D, E and F.) Lapid: I listened to all the no-confidence motions. I’m answering the first three. I’ll begin with the motion of Mr. Porush. First of all, I sympathize with his grief that he’s no longer in the coalition. I know it’s difficult, and he’s experiencing difficult times. (shouting from floor by MK Moshe Gafni.) Knesset member Gafni, I know that you’re enjoying yourself. I was saying that I understand his sadness. Mr. Porush — I listened to him attentively. He spoke about the taxes that are about to go up because of the deficit. Mr. Porush, I’m trying to remember: the government that created this deficit — weren’t you partners in it? Were you on Mars until now? Did you just get to the State of Israel this morning? You were members of every coalition for the last 30 years. This deficit is registered in your names. I’m just the one who has to resolve the deficit that you created. And you weren’t the cheapest members of that coalition, I remind you. It’s not as though you sat there and said that out of concern for the people of Israel you’ve decided to take less money from the state budget. (shouting) And the most interesting part — the most interesting part is that you had the guts, you had the guts to come here and say that the central thing in the state of Israel is the topic of security and you’re worried about the decline in percentages of military conscription? You’re worried about the decline in percentages of conscription? I’d like to tell you, sir, don’t worry yourself. This government will see to it that there will be a great many new conscripts straight from your backyard. (Shouting from Porush) Chairman: Knesset Member Porush, one interruption is O.K., not a speech! Lapid: We will have new conscripts. I don’t want you to worry yourself about the health of the IDF. And we certainly agree that all draft-dodging is to be condemned and we condemn draft-dodging from [the affluent north Tel Aviv neighborhood of] Sheinkin as well as all other draft-dodging, and everyone will be conscripted and redemption will come upon Israel, Mr. Porush, I don’t want you to worry yourself. And there’s another topic that I don’t want you to worry about. You speak about hatred of Haredim. Nobody hates you. Nobody hates you. [sudden silence in the hall] I simply ask myself — after we’ve said 7,000 times that nobody hates you and you continue to insist that everybody hates you — why is it so urgent for you to feel that they hate you? Why do you push yourselves into a corner that you have no reason to be in? Nobody hates you. The only thing that’s happened, Knesset Member Gafni, is that you’re no longer in the coalition. That’s called democracy. (shouting: You shouldn’t speak that way!) Lapid: Knesset Member Gafni, I’m not asking you what I can talk about and what I can’t talk about. I don’t take orders from his excellency. This state is finished taking orders from his excellency. This is why you’re no longer the chairman of the finance committee, because we’re sick of taking orders from you. Because we’re sick of taking orders from his excellency. I know you’re a lawmaker, certainly. The only thing that’s happened … Chairman: Knesset members, Knesset member Itzik Cohen, I want to remind you, this is Minister Lapid’s maiden [or virgin] Knesset speech and it’s forbidden to prevent him… Lapid: It’s so many years since virginity and I were mentioned in the same sentence as finance minister. I repeat what I said, MK Gafni. I will speak about what I think should be discussed. I’d like to talk about your complaint that you are not members of the coalition. There’s such a thing in democracy as a government without Haredim. It’s not registered in your names in Tabu [the state land registry). The state of Israel isn’t registered in your names in Tabu. The government of Israel isn’t registered in your names in Tabu. It doesn’t make you less worthy, or less citizens. We respect you, we believe in the importance of your democratic voices from the benches of the opposition. And regarding the claim — listen, we are discussing economic questions and not populist proposals. You [addressing Gafni] are the appropriate person, you have been a deputy finance minister, you understand the topic. But I am responding to Mr. Porush’s question. Regarding your question about the starving of children as you called it. We will not permit any child in Israel to be hungry. It is our obligation to see to it that no child in the state of Israel will go hungry and we will honor it. But I want to remind you of something else. The body that’s responsible for supporting children is called their parents. Is called their parents. When you bring a child into this world, MK Porush, you are the first person who is responsible for him. To bring a child into the world is a weighty responsibility, and you need to bring children into this world not on the assumption that other people will support them, but on the assumption that it is your obligation to support your children. Do we agree on this, MK Porush? MK Israel Eichler: We are responsible for our children and we will not permit you to steal their money. I didn’t say anything to you. Just don’t take the child’s money. Lapid: MK Eichler, I heard that you called for a tax rebellion, and I want to repeat the joke of my friend Hanoch Daum: What will you propose next? That Haredim not be conscripted? That Haredim not pay taxes? What are you talking about? Of course we will see to it that no child in the state of Israel will be hungry, and of course people need to take responsibility for their children. Eichler: Don’t take money from them. Don’t steal money and don’t give money. That’s all. (more shouted questions about children and hunger.) Lapid: God forbid. We believe it is the parents’ responsibility to care for their children and we acknowledge that it’s our job to ensure that no children in the state of Israel go hungry. [more shouting about hunger] We will find solutions to that even if there is a decline in subsidies. In case you’re still so worried, we have allocated 200 million shekels especially for nutritional security for every child in the state of Israel just to ensure that he won’t be hungry. [7:15] (extended shouting) Lapid: I will now discuss the motion of MK Mizrahi [of Labor]. He opened his speech – MK opened his speech with the words that this government doesn’t bring anything new or change. I want to ask MK Mizrahi one question, how do you know this? This government has existed for a month. A month. And you already know that there is nothing new and nothing changed? (more shouting – How do you know everything already after a month?) Lapid: (laughs) There is no claim that I know everything. For example MK Mizrahi says — he says how can you bring a purchase tax on luxury vehicles. I want to ask you — have you stopped being against the things you’re against now you’ve started being against the things you’re for? Do you have a problem with a purchase tax on luxury vehicles?
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).