|Yair Lapid, leader of Israel's new Yesh Atid party.|
The secular mainstream in Israel scored in the recent elections with the success of the new party Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by talk-show host Yair Lapid. Though Benjamin Netanyahu’s party won, Lapid emerged as a power broker. One of the planks in his platform is the demand that ultra-Orthodox students serve in the military or suffer sanctions. The Supreme Court has already nixed a law giving exemption to such students, but the government has not followed through on bringing them into the military.
This is only part of the battle that has been developing in Israel over the role of ultra-Orthodox religion in civil society. Other related issues include gender equality, taxes and government aid. Though its adherents (Haredim) represent only about 10% of the Jewish population in Israel, they wield disproportionate political influence. The polity is split into many fragments such that no single party can gain a clear majority, but the ultra-orthodox parties have been present in most coalitions since 1977. This time around two Haredi parties have a combined seat total of 18 to Lapid’s 19. This suggests that if Lapid pursues an aggressive secular agenda at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox, he will face a lot of opposition and deepen a growing rift in Israeli society
His position on Jerusalem could also become an issue. In the campaign he took up the traditional Israeli election rhetoric of “undivided Jerusalem.” This wins votes. Yet his record shows a different side. In 2008 he gave an interview to Der Spiegel indicating support for the division of the city with the Palestinians. This past week one of his security advisors, Jacob Perry, answered a question about Lapid’s inviolability of Jerusalem stance indicating that it may be the starting point for negotiations. In other words, compromise may be necessary.
There is much to be said on either side of the debate over Jerusalem. Both Israelis/Jews and Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims have staked a claim. Identity and ideology play vital roles for all concerned. Can ideologies be modified and identities change? Yes. But only with new perspectives on the human condition.