Which way will Yair Lapid turn?

Now that the first demonstration has taken place in front of his home in Ramat Aviv, it could be officially said that Yair Lapid is the Israeli Finance Minister.

So what were hundreds of people so upset about?

The protesters demonstrated against the expected budget cuts in child allowances and rise in taxes, and for a more equal distribution of revenues from the recently discovered natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Yes to Public Housing"
“Yes to Public Housing”

But the trigger behind the protest was the so-called ‘Middle Class comment’ Lapid made on his Facebook page, which prompted considerable attention and debate (6,545 comments on Lapid’s wall alone). In his comment, Lapid described the Israeli average Jane who earns, together with her husband, 20,000 NIS/month (roughly $67,000/year) but cannot afford to help her three children buy an apartment.

"I also want to be f***ing Ricki Cohen"
“I also want to be f***ing Ricki Cohen”

The post, which was meant to sound sympathetic to middle class Israelis, was interpreted by many as patronizing and removed from reality.

In response to these accusations, Lapid said: “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. 9,509 NIS is the average salary in Israel. So on average, a couple in Israel makes about 20,000 NIS (before taxes). So if average Jane and her husband are left with 14,000 NIS after taxes and have a mortgage to pay and three children to raise, then they must be struggling.”

One problem with Lapid’s response is that his average Jane represents, in fact, a small minority. While the average salary is indeed 9,509NIS/month, the median salary is only 5,812 NIS/month. That means that roughly 75% of Israelis make less than Lapid’s average Jane.

"Budget Cuts = Hungry Families"
“Budget Cuts = Hungry Families”

But the deeper problem lies elsewhere – it has to do with Lapid’s vision for himself as a public servant. Does he see his mission narrowly or broadly? Will he stick to a narrow interpretation of the platform he ran on, carrying the banner of the middle class only, or will he aim for a vision that aims to benefit the entire people of Israel and render himself a true leader?

Yair Lapid’s first act in office was a wise one: he decided to abolish the bi-annual government budget and restore the annual one. This move would allow Israel to better address the rapidly changing reality in Israel and worldwide and devise sensible policies accordingly. Lapid should continue down this path and pursue the collective good. So far, his middle class comment alienated the 75% of households that do not make 20,000 NIS/month, and portrayed him as a sectarian minister removed from reality and the daily hardships faced by the majority of Israelis.

The last thing Israel needs is another factional minister – even if the faction he claims to represent is the backbone of any vibrant economy and democracy. Let us hope that from now on, Lapid will drop sectarianism in favor of inclusive, visionary leadership, and truly realize the immense political capital at his disposal.

About the Author
Talia Gorodess is Director of Socio-Economic Development at the Reut Institute, a Tel-Aviv based NGO. Talia is an Israeli-American social activist currently residing in London as part of the Atkin Fellowship.