Israeli politician Yair Lapid tells rabbis Israel needs religious equality

(JTA) — Israeli news anchor-turned politician Yair Lapid told an audience of Conservative rabbis that Israel’s new government coalition makes his party the voice of the “moderate voting class.”

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Lapid also told the rabbis at the Rabbinical Assembly National Convention in Atlanta on Tuesday that he would work to ensure the equality of all religious movements in Israel.

Speaking a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his Likud Party and the opposition party Kadima reached an agreement on a unity government, which postpones elections in Israel for at least a year and a half, Lapid said that Kadima had come “home,” since most of its members had split off from the Likud in 2005.

“Not everything that happened in the last 24 hours is bad,” said Lapid. “Kadima is returning to Likud and the political map in Israel has now changed in a way that now allows my party to become the sole representation of Israel’s moderate voting class.” Lapid recently left his job as a news anchor and registered his own political party, the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party. 

He noted the 94 lawmaker-strong unity government, quipping: “The last person who had such a coalition was Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.” 

Lapid also addressed the controversial issues in Israel of conversion and freedom to pray in mixed quorums, and he said he strongly supported Jewish women’s right to pray in a quorum at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

“Israel cannot be the only country in the Western World that has no freedom of religion to choose. This is just blatantly wrong and it must disappear,” he said.

He also discussed the Tal Law, set to expire on August 1, which permits haredi yeshiva students to defer military service indefinitely in order to pursue religious studies unhindered. All Israelis must serve their country, he said, either in the army or national service.

Lapid assured the rabbis that while “people in America often feel neglected, the right people in Israel are listening to you.”

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