Where is the money?
Ynet special: Yair Lapid explains why he decided to quit lucrative job, go into politics
Last Monday I slept in. The previous night I finished replying to emails and text messages at 4 am, and besides, for the first time in many years I didn't quite have a job to wake up to.
I shaved, made myself coffee, and went out to bring the papers. When I opened the door there were dozens of photographers and television crews out there. They yelled at me. I didn't quite manage to make out the words, but the general idea was that they wanted to know why I'm going into politics.
I'm a very experienced person, certainly in front of the cameras, yet nonetheless it was odd. I've seen such scenes in American movies, but not in Israel.
I stood there for a moment with the coffee in my hand and tried to figure out how exactly I'm supposed to sum it all up in one sentence. Eventually, I did the only thing I could do: I smiled at the photojournalists and went back inside with the papers. On the short walk to the safe haven in my living room I had time to see that my shift to politics is the main headline everywhere.
I'm going into politics because I think that the kind of discourse taking place in Israel is leading this country to oblivion and I want to change it. This may be a very ambitious mission, but would it be worthwhile to leave my cushy seat on the Friday News for something that isn't ambitious?
On the other hand, one should also be modest. If the rules of the political arena define one's "position" as somthing that can be expressed in two words, I cannot absolve myself from doing this. Indeed, at this time I'm writing a detailed platform on a series of issues – ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the urgent need for a constitution – yet for the time being I must study the political theater, and the first phase may be to develop the ability to convey catchy messages.
Hence, I had to ask myself whether I can come up with two or three words that can define my political direction. Surprisingly, the answer is "yes." I have three words, but I'm uttering them here only on condition that you promise to keep in mind that the discussion does not end with them, but rather, this is where it starts. As opposed to the demands voiced by my fellow politicians, this is not the bottom line of my political doctrine, but rather, the top line. These are the words that in my view should open the debate on the direction the State of Israel is going in.
These three words are: Where's the money?
This is the big question asked by Israel's middle class,
the same sector on whose behalf I'm going into politics. Where's the money? Why is it that the productive sector, which pays taxes, fulfills its duties, performs reserve service and carries the entire country on its back doesn't see the money?
You wanted a clear position? Here you go. This is our money, and the time has come to invest it in us. Because this question, these three little words, contains quite a few other questions: Why do our children receive the worst education in the Western world? Why don't they have any chance to buy an apartment one of these days? Why is a high-tech superpower mired in such corrupt, Third World bureaucracy? Why is the cost of living so crazy around here and why are the gaps so large? Why are vital services such as police, healthcare or welfare not budgeted and why do their employees get ridiculous salaries?
As opposed to journalists, politicians cannot make do with questions. They must also offer answers. On the other hand, you don't really need me in order to know where the money is. The answer is known to all: For many years now, the State of Israel is subjugated to extortionist, shameless interest groups, some of them non-Zionist even, which misuse our distorted system of government in order to rob the middle class of its money.
I know this immediately sets off those who hoped that I will lead an anti-haredi line (and nobody hopes for it more than Shas, because this is the only thing that can save its next campaign,) but I'm sorry to disappoint you: I have no interest in hatred for Jews, but rather, only in a more just distribution of resources and wholly different priorities.
I think that haredi children should study the core subjects and that their parents must work, and I believe that there are many haredim who think like me and would be glad to discover that someone is fighting the radical functionaries and rabbis who embitter their lives.
Besides, the money is not only there. It is also in the hands of shameless (and reckless) tycoons who play with our pension funds, a dangerous, destructive game that must be stopped. Our money is also found in inflated, wasteful government apparatuses that do not bother to grant us normal service and in quite a few remote settlements that look like Switzerland and have access roads that are better than in Switzerland.
Each one of these groups has its own party, which ensures that the extortion continues. The politicians who led us to the current situation have been there for dozens of years now, while the middle class that funds this celebration is increasingly being eroded. This sector feels, and rightfully so, that without new leadership that would outline values there is no point in living here.
We must stop all that. But how?
All we need is a party that would say "this is the most important thing for me, and you better not mess with me." This is a principled matter for me, something I won't compromise on, and I won't give it up. What we need is someone who will arrive at every session of coalition negotiations with a knife between his teeth and explain that the only thing he cares about is seeing Israel's middle class receiving from the State an appropriate return for its investment.
Just like the haredim don't compromise on the Shabbat, we will not compromise on the need to change the system of government, modify our priorities and resource distribution, fight the extortionists and interest groups unflinchingly, and ensure the middle class gets its money back.
I know it sounds impossible to you, but I'll ask again: Why do you think I went into politics? I had everything, including influence and money, and I decided to give it all up for something I believe in. Some of my best friends think it's a crazy move. They may be right, but when you send someone to check where your money is, don't you want him to be someone you cannot be pressed in any way, because he already gave up everything once?