What does Lapid really want?
Until Sunday night, Lapid had not yet given the public any idea of what kind of judicial reform he would be prepared to support as he leads the charge against the proposals in the Knesset. Some believe that the issue of judicial reform is merely a vehicle for pursuing his anti-Bibi revolt and that he has no intention of agreeing on any of the reform bills.
The first interesting suggestion was found in an article posted in Yidioth Ahronoth (in Hebrew) on 17 February 2023, in which Yuval Karni tells us what he thinks Lapid is after. The title can, perhaps, be a play on the Hebrew word, l’kroa – to rip: “Kor’im et a Megilla” – “Ripping up the Declaration of Independence”. The word, l’kroa is also slang for something that is side-splittingly funny, but I don’t think he had this in mind.
Karni writes about Lapid’s law proposal that was about to come up after the weekend for a vote in the Knesset ministerial committee that approves or rejects bills attempting to enter the legislative process. Lapid’s bill, Basic Law: The Declaration of Independence, seeks to anchor in law the principles defined in the Declaration of Independence. Lapid’s purpose was to show the coalition in a negative light, writes Karni, who expected the ministerial committee, made up entirely of coalition members, to reject the bill as the government continues to gallop ahead with judicial reform. The Declaration of Independence is a subject about which there is broad public consensus, in contrast with the proposals for judicial reform, a subject that is tearing the nation apart (what Karni alluded to in his title with the word, l’kroa).
Karni was wrong; Lapid’s bill passed the ministerial committee and joins the other eleven bills tabled in previous Knesset terms, beginning in 1966 with Uri Avnery and proposed over the years by Meretz, Yesh Atid, Zionist Union, Labor, Blue & White, and Yisrael Beitinu MKs, the last of which tabled their proposal two weeks after Lapid.
While, of course, I have no access to the inner workings of Lapid’s mind and I read Karni’s article after the bill had been approved, my first thought was that Lapid wants to make history. I think he is jealous of Bibi’s legacy — all the good Netanyahu has done for the country despite the great difficulties many have with the man — and Lapid wants to make a little legacy himself. And, of course, he also thinks he deserves to be prime minister for a lot longer than the six months he already had.
With all the furor and momentum Lapid has been building up, week after week after week, with all the mainstream media talking his talking points and all but ignoring the arguments in favor of the legislative proposals for judicial reform, with Lapid succeeding in getting some members of the coalition to agree to have the president preside over legislative work that should take place within the bounds of the Knesset – the committee sessions and the cafeteria (where many deals are made, I think), Lapid is setting himself up to be the savior of the nation. Finally saving Israel from Bibi.
More than that: it would be quite the coup if Lapid was the one to find a way to bring a constitution to the State of Israel.
And then I began to consider the brilliance of the move, regardless of whether Lapid had exactly this in mind right from the beginning of his incitement against the judicial reform proposals or had an epiphany inspired along the way by those who called the current situation a constitutional crisis.
Two days ago (5 March), Prime Minister Netanyahu castigated the opposition for trying to bring down the government amid a constitutional crisis. That very evening, Lapid finally put out a concrete suggestion for resolving the horrific conflict around judicial reform: He invited Bibi to meet with him in the President’s Residence and not come out until the State of Israel will have a constitution, a document that will unite the people of Israel rather than tear them apart.
Everyone in the country is in favor of Israel finally having a constitution. Everyone also knows that drawing up a constitution would be, to use the word l’kroa in another sense: kri’at yam suf, or like the miracle of splitting the Red Sea.
Even if this does not happen, of course, even if the meeting itself does not happen, the discussion has now perhaps been changed. Can we continue to argue over the judicial reforms as before, or will the debate move to constitution yes versus constitution no?
Even if Lapid’s original motivations were, as supporters of judicial reform claim, the left’s inability to accept defeat at the polls and anxiety that Supreme Court leftist activism will be curtailed, his ability to mobilize the situation shows potential political acumen many may not have attributed to him.
The current battle between master senior politician Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, who is now showing signs of becoming a competent challenger, may result in both judicial reforms and serious movement toward the establishment of a constitution.
A constitution would be most welcome. However, I dread the thought that moving it forward may be attributed to Lapid, thereby catapulting him into the PM’s office at the next election, the most undemocratic way he signed the maritime deal with Lebanon/Hizbullah being a frightening sign of how he would manage the country. The way he riled up the country in the streets instead of fighting reforms with which he disagreed in the halls of the Knesset is another frightening sign.
And he still has not told the nation what changes he needs to see in the proposed judicial reforms to bring it closer to a form he could get behind. In fact, in committee session debates, Yesh Atid MKs do not add substantive suggestions but merely repeat the same tired slogans we hear in street demonstrations. Therefore, it seems that all Lapid really wants is to be prime minister again.