Jerusalem – Israeli Secularists Find Their Lost Voice In Yair Lapid

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Israeli politician Yair Lapid arrives at the Yesh Atid headquarters in Tel Aviv January 27, 2013, for a party meeting. Photo by Flash90 Jerusalem – After a stunning success in last week’s election that positioned Yesh Atid as Israel’s second largest party, its leader, secular talk-show host Yair Lapid, said his party’s campaign slogan “sharing the burden” will be a core principle when negotiations begin to seat Israel’s next governing coalition.

Originally, Lapid’s catchphrase ‘sharing the burden’ spoke more directly to mainstream secular issues in Israel’s ongoing national identity battle. It called for a lifting of draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, subsequent integration into the workforce, and a realignment in the balance as to who pays taxes and who qualifies for government aid. But with last week’s victory, ‘share the burden’ will now cover a broader sociological shift with regard to gender issues, over-reaching rabbinical controls with regard to marriage and divorce, and lopsided ultra-Orthodox influence in the public sphere.

The NY Times reports (http://nyti.ms/WrEeUk) that Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, advocates for equality and religious pluralism, said, “All of a sudden there was a change in seculars in Israel–they see themselves as a group that needs to fight for themselves. People say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t see myself as part of a society where a woman cannot sit in the front of the bus.”

Ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Jakobovits agrees. Jakobovits, who runs the Torah Institute of Contemporary Issues in Jerusalem, said, “The community is growing, and it’s perceived as a potential threat to the character of the rest of the country. The underlying issue is that there’s an ideological contest over the soul of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Over the past decade a population shift has seen the ultra-Orthodox population–known as Haredim–grow from 6 precent to 10 percent–resulting in public clashes in heavily populated neighborhoods. Buses have ceased to run, images of women have been routinely vandalized, and drivers pas sing through on the way to Sabbath have been harassed.

In 2011, an 8-year-old Modern Orthodox girl was spit upon and called a prostate because her clothes were not deemed modest enough.

The first test for Yesh Atid, according to Lapid, will be the draft. A spring 2012 Supreme Court ruling invalidated a law exempting yeshiva students from serving, but to date the government has failed to introduce a plan for integration. Lapid wants to limit exemptions to a few hundred, while imposing sanctions against those who do not serve.

Lapid is also committed to working towards reform of social issues as well; including civil marriage for same-sex couples and inequality in family laws.


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