'Israel mustn't fear Jewish civil war'

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party stunned everyone by becoming Israel's second largest political faction in the recent election, got his first opportunity to address the Knesset on Monday, and it was a doozy.

Lapid made an impassioned plea for equality in shouldering the national burden, an issue that was the central plank of his election platform and which attracted so many middle-of-the-road voters.

Lapid insisted that Israel has a serious problem in that the rule of law no longer applies to all sectors of society.

"The thing that is broken...is the ability of the government to act as sovereign when facing the different groups that make up the population," he stated.

Lapid referred specifically to the lawlessness in Arab towns and villages "where police dare not venture," the seeming impunity with which extreme nationalists carry out "price tag" vandalism, and the accepted refusal of the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army or enter the work force, despite receiving enormous financial payouts from the government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly close to a deal to bring Yesh Atid into his next government, and the two main ultra-Orthodox parties last week made a veiled threat of civil war if Lapid's policies are advanced.

But Lapid said there is nothing to fear. "There won't be a civil war," Lapid told his fellow lawmakers. "Ten percent of the population cannot threaten the other 90% with civil war."

In his Friday Torah portion reading, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, spiritual leader of the largest ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, called Lapid a "scoundrel [who] hates the yeshivas (Jewish seminaries)."

In fact, during his Knesset speech, Lapid advocated not only teaching Orthodox children English and a desire to enter the work force, but also called for secular children to be taught the Talmud, so the two sides could better understand one another.

Lapid has found what many felt was an unlikely ally in Naftali Bennett, the new leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, which is the Knesset's fourth largest faction.

Bennett told Army Radio on Sunday that he and Lapid have "informal agreements" to work together toward certain goals, such as universal conscription, should both their parties enter the government.

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