We stand here today after we’ve all learned something. We learned the hard way, we learned through the mistakes we made in the beginning and the barriers we had to overcome. We learnt that if we really want to change something then there is no alternative but to “put the knife between our teeth” and fight for it. So that’s what we did. That’s what we’re doing. It’s a fight for our country.
We came to the Knesset and the government to cooperate, to work with others, to connect between people to get things done, not to get involved in fights. Except that everything we did, every change, every correction, we had to fight against corruption that is difficult to imagine, against all those who don’t care about the country but only about their interests.
When we reduced the government to 18 ministers, when we cancelled the position of Minister without Portfolio and saved tens of millions of shekels for Israeli citizens, we had to fight the entire coalition. It was convenient for them before. They liked things the way they were with jobs to hand out to their friends, with offices and drivers. They couldn’t understand why we insisted that the party had to end. So we fought those who were corrupt and we won and we changed the law.
When we passed the Equality in National Service Bill, when we started to heal the open wound in Israeli society, everyone was against it, from right to left. Representatives of the Likud ran away from the votes and the Prime Minister tried to undermine the process from day one. While we voted for the law, Buji Herzog and the Labor party sat outside the Knesset plenary and fawned over the Haredi parties. The convicted felon Aryeh Deri hugged Buji and said to him that Buji was his Prime Minister and Litzman and Gafni thanked the Labor Party for helping young Haredi men avoid enlistment and avoid the workforce. We were alone, but we fought and we won. The law passed. Today there is a 300 percent increase in young ultra-orthodox people looking for work and a 40 percent increase in enlistment to the IDF. And we ensured that core curriculum subjects are taught in their schools, the Nahari Law was cancelled and we standardized the winter clock change and cut the budgets for yeshivot. That’s what happens when a group of committed people comes along and says: it’s a fight for our country.
When we decided to add a NIS 3,600 grant to Holocaust survivors, straight into their bank accounts, and to increase their benefits and to give them free medication and more hours of care, everyone explained to us that there wasn’t money for it. “They waited for 67 years, they’ll wait a bit longer. Another two years, another three.”
And we said, “You’re crazy, they don’t have two or three years. Time is running out.” I confess that that fight was personal for me. It was a fight for grandfather Meir who I’m named after. He was murdered in the Mauthausen concentration camp. It’s the fight for my father, the child from the Budapest Ghetto. Why did we have to fight for it against all those who deliver nice speeches every year on Holocaust Memorial Day? There is barely a speech in which Netanyahu doesn’t reference the Holocaust, the six million, but what about the treatment of the survivors? Why did no one bother to help until we came to fight for them.
When we decided to go up against the large corporations and bring money from there, all the lobbyists, all those with connections and all the dealmakers rose up as one. Because each one has their own group, their own central committee, their own vote bundlers and those who gave them donations either above or under the table. Until we arrived there was no-one who would say, “Enough of the corruption!” So we fought everyone and we brought in, for the first time, 4.5 billion NIS from the trapped profits, and we limited the salaries for executives because your money shouldn’t pay for anyone to get 15 million NIS a year, and we changed the rules of the game regarding the money that no-one else had dared to touch, the money the tycoons made from Israel’s natural resources, from the gas and the Dead Sea. Because only someone who isn’t connected to anyone, isn’t afraid of anyone.
When we decided to stop the money that Uri Ariel, Nissan Slomiansky and Yisrael Katz tried to transfer to all sorts of isolated settlements – NIS 70 million to a hill near Beit El on which no-one lives, NIS 300 million to a road around Tapuach and for public buildings in Yitzhar and Itamar – they told us there was no alternative saying “That’s how it is, that’s how it works in the coalition.”
So we explained to them that we didn’t enter politics to be told, “That’s how it is” and we fought and we stopped the money. As long as we were there it became clear that it doesn’t have to be that way and the money went to Yerucham and to Kiryat Shmona and to purchasing MRI machines for hospitals in the periphery. The moment we left the government, the political corruption returned, and the money transfers resumed because while they speak on behalf of God, they don’t act that way.
And you know what? Sometimes we also fought and lost but those are still fights we are proud of. We were the only party in the coalition who voted against and fought against the strange idea that in a country with some of the largest social gaps in the western world the Prime Minister woke up one morning and decided that his special ice cream isn’t enough, and the garden furniture for his home Caesarea isn’t enough, his life won’t be complete without a private jet. He needs a private jet because otherwise how else will he get to London?
Just as we were the only party – coalition or opposition – who fought against a pay rise for MKs. Because in a sane country, Knesset Members don’t vote to increase their own salaries. I’m a Member of Knesset, we have 20 Knesset Members. Believe me, we earn too much as it is. That’s the reason we all donated that salary increase to humanitarian charities. Because that pay rise might not be political corruption but it is immoral and disgusting.
In the past year and eight months in which we were in the government, we did more than other parties did in two decades. And still I ask myself, “Why did all those corrections, all the things we did – why did we always need to fight for them?” It’s not what we wanted. Shai, Yael, Meir, Yaakov, Shelah, Mickey, all our Knesset Members – we all came into politics with a positive approach. We left comfortable lives not so that we could argue, but so that we could do in order to fix the country. When I was a child I read a beautiful book which summed up what I felt, which we all felt when we started this journey. That there was a cry which we had to answer. That this country needs love, and good people who come to work, not for themselves.
That’s why we can’t be stopped. This isn’t a fight for ourselves, this is a fight for our country.
There is not a single former minister here, not a single Knesset Member, who wasn’t stopped in the street during the past two years at least once a week and told, either cynically or with genuine concern – “Why did you need this?” Let me tell you why we needed this: In the 2015 budget, which was passed by the government and a first reading in the Knesset, there was one clause, which most people didn’t notice. It was an amendment in the subsidies for seniors. On January 1st, three weeks ago, we were meant to take 190,000 senior citizens, increase their benefits and lift them out of poverty. We won’t rest and we won’t give in until that happens. It’s a fight for our country!
In that same budget, also on January 1st, there was an addition 3.2 billion NIS to education including 120 million NIS for a national plan to reduce overcrowding in classrooms because in a class of 40 children you can’t learn – not a lesson on the Declaration of Independence and not a computer class. It’s a fight for our country!
With that budget, our housing plan was meant to pass. 112,000 housing units which are already being built today because of the work we did in the Housing Cabinet. 150,000 apartments for rent as part of the ‘Apartment for Rent’ program. The Fair Rental Law which was meant to protect young people renting apartments from rising prices. Moving IDF bases to the Negev and a 240,000 NIS discount to young people who served in the army and are buying their first apartment. And we won’t give up on any of it. Firstly, because it works. In October 2014, before Netanyahu dragged us to elections, house prices went down for the first time since 2007. They went down by one percent. They went down a bit but they went down because we did the right things. We didn’t perform miracles and we didn’t invent new tricks. We worked hard, with boots in the mud. We’re the only ones with a practical plan which works after ground work and we need to go back to implement it because it isn’t about housing; it’s about an entire generation. A whole generation which feels betrayed by our country, and we have to prove to them that we’re here and this fight for our country is on their behalf.
And there is another fight we will never give up on, and that’s the fight for our security and for a diplomatic agreement. Israel needs a regional diplomatic solution with the moderate Arab states, which will allow us to separate from the Palestinians, guarantee strict security measures, disarm Gaza and rebuild the relations that Netanyahu has destroyed with the United States and the international community. A practical agreement which will guarantee our security and allow us to gradually separate from four million Palestinians while keeping the major settlement blocs and keeping Jerusalem united, all while fighting without compromise against Islamist terror.
The State of Israel isn’t only a place. It’s an idea. The national home of the Jewish people can’t be defined only by the fence which surrounds it and protects its people from the enemy. It has to also be defined by what happens internally. By the feelings of the middle class that the rules of the game here are fair, that whoever invests also receives. By the feeling of the weakest in society that compassion is a central value in our treatment of one another. We need, as we need air to breathe a Judaism which doesn’t divide and doesn’t extort but unites and instills us with values — through politics which is a tool and not an invitation for corruption, through the straight, honest, hardworking and good people who keep this country alive, and who come now, here, on an evening like this to say, “No more!” This country is theirs, and they are demanding that it will return to them. They decided – we decided – that we won’t give up.
We are presenting a list today which doesn’t represent vote bundlers and forgeries but values and principles. They are people who believe and people who left a more comfortable life. They didn’t come to look after their own interests; they are sacrificing every day, their families and their homes, for the sake of the country. These are truly people of the center. Women and men, religious and secular, periphery and center. Not anarchist left, not extreme right, center. Because that’s always been our vision. Not a country built by tribes who fight each other but a country dependent on its ability to build bridgeheads between the different parts of Israeli society.
Israel needs them in the Knesset. Israel needs Yesh Atid to be large and to be strong, so the “clock isn’t turned back.” Only a strong and large Yesh Atid will stop the politicians – the left and the right, the Likud and the Labor – from cancelling the Equality in National Service and the teaching of core subjects in ultra-Orthodox schools. Only we can stop them from raising taxes, deterring investors, going back to huge governments with Ministers without Portfolio and jobs for friends. Only we will stop them from sending the money to isolated settlements or to central committee members, or the large unions instead of to education, to health and to children living in poverty.
Now, when every day a new scandal is being exposed, each day a new investigation and new evidence comes to light, only we can stop the corruption because we are the only party – the only one! – in which none of its leadership was investigated, suspected, remained silent during questioning, indicted or spent time in prison. I can’t believe I’m saying this as an achievement. It should be the standard! If your standard is that you only vote for straight and honest people then there is only one party that you can vote for. Because we came to change and we don’t give up. We will never, never, never, never give up.
It’s a fight for our country!
From Yair Lapid’s speech at the Yesh Atid campaign launch, January 26, 2015