Monday, January 12, 2015

Dov Fights On

In an exclusive interview with me, MK Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid tells all about his party's achievements, corruption in the Knesset, his identity as a lightning rod political figure, and why Israeli voters must put their cynicism aside and let Yesh Atid get back to building up Israel for the better.

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) currently is 17th on Yesh Atid's Knesset slate. Yesh Atid is currently polling at 12 seats, but Lipman is confident Yesh Atid will rise in the polls as the party gets its message out.

On Thursday January 8, I conducted a phone interview with MK Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid, the centrist political party headed by former media personality and outgoing Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

During his near two years in the Knesset, Lipman, the first American-born MK in thirty years, has been a lightning rod of controversy due to him being a Haredi Rabbi running with a party with a centrist political vision for the state of Israel. 

We spoke heavily about his experience in the Knesset as a controversial political figure as well as the promises Yesh Atid made to its supporters that two years on have been fulfilled, the promises that haven't, and the promises that that are on their way to being fulfilled. Lipman is convinced after his short term as a Knesset member that solving the fundamental problems facing the country, including battling the cost of living and housing, are doable, and in a shorter time frame than what most Israelis think. 

In this interview, Lipman also discusses the vast corruption that goes on in the Knesset and why Israelis' perceptions of some leading Israeli political figures are wildly off the mark.

Read on to get the real story from MK Rabbi Dov Lipman.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Two years ago during the last election season you were in a very different place. You’d been recently introduced as a candidate for Yesh Atid. You were a relative unknown and, being in the 17th spot on the Yesh Atid slate, it wasn’t realistic for you to be elected to the 19th Knesset. Your supporters admired you for your work for a party and a leader you believed in and they definitely revelled in the fact that Yesh Atid placed an Anglo as one of its main candidates. Your detractors lambasted you for joining up with a notable journalist with very secular bent and for being his token Haredi candidate. In what place do you see yourself now in this election campaign two years later.

DOV LIPMAN:   First of all, it’s amazing where I’m standing. We have parlor meetings almost every night throughout January and it’s a very different feeling than it was campaigning two years.  Two years ago campaigning, I was telling people things we were promising to do and I trusted Yair and I trusted the party. But I didn’t know what it meant to be a member of the Knesset or be in the government and what can be done and what can’t be done. Now I can stand in front of the people with a significant confidence. 

Lipman spoke to voters at a parlor event held at my apartment in Ramat Gan in January 2013 during the last Knesset election season.

I’m able to point out what we did accomplish.  Here’s what we did. Here’s what I did personally. I’m able to speak to what we will be able to do because I see how the system works and I have reasonable expectations as to what can be accomplished. I’m not promising that we can change universes, but we’re showing how little by little through the system you can make changes. I’m coming with far more legitimacy than I was before. 

In terms of how people perceive me, it’s hard for me to answer that question. My hope is that in the English-speaking public they realize that for the last year and 8 months they’ve had a representative in the Knesset. Our office was available at all times to help people. We helped people regardless of whether they were Yesh Atid supporters or not. We didn’t pay attention to that.  But they turned to us in English and we helped people with such a wide spectrum of issues. My hope is that people realize they had a representative in the Knesset and that this will play a role in the decision of whether or not to vote Yesh Atid.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Your candidacy with Yesh Atid and your election to the Knesset was very controversial.  Yesh Atid ran on a platform advocating that large numbers of Haredi citizens begin to serve in the military and join the workforce.  Many Haredi leaders came out very vocally and very publicly against you.  I even personally have a friend from university who became Haredi who wanted me to ask you why you decided to become a traitor and a sellout to the Jewish people.   How do you think Haredi Jews now view the reforms that Yesh Atid initiated and passed and how do you think they view the party and you this time around?

DOV LIPMAN: Well I know that the few thousand Haredim who we helped get training and find jobs over the last year and eight months don’t view me as traitor or a sellout. They view me and Yesh Atid as the people who helped them leave the cycle of poverty. I know that the boys who are in schools that now have general studies and their parents don’t view me as a traitor. They view us as people who give them a lifeline. Now those boys learn math and English.  They’ll have the ability to continue learning and combine it with general studies and higher education and one day join the workforce at a very high level. 

Lipman originally shot to prominence for his very vocal and public stand against Haredi extremism in his home city of Beit Shemesh. He first met Yesh Atid founder Yair Lapid six months before the 2013 general election.

I know that the boys studying in the Haredi hesder yeshiva that I helped establish on the parliamentary side where they learn for two years and serve in the IDF for two years don’t view me as a sellout.  They view me as someone who helped them fulfill their dream of combining high level Torah and serving in the army. So it’s all a question of perspective. 

It’s possible that people who have a perspective of “I’m going to stay in yeshiva and kollel the rest of my life” may find my efforts difficult for them because we shifted funding from them to those who were going to try to leave and go join the workforce. So it’s all a question of which part of the Haredi community you speak to. 

There are huge, huge numbers of Haredim the programs that Yesh Atid initiated. I have letters from them. They all say thank you. They may not be out there in the public eye because there’s a lot of damage that can come to them.  But that’s the reality on the ground. I can look back again on the last year and eight months and really be thankful to G-d that I had the opportunity to help so many people in the Haredi community in so many ways.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Do you think that Yesh Atid will get more Haredi votes this time around?

DOV LIPMAN: There’s no doubt that you will see Haredi votes in the areas where there are Haredim. Nobody will be out there with signs or banners, but when they go behind the curtain at the election booth, they will vote Yesh Atid.

MICHAEL BASSIN: You claim that Yesh Atid delivered big on many of its key promises.  Could you outline what those deliveries have been?

DOV LIPMAN: Absolutely. I remember so vividly during the campaign last time standing up in front of crowd after crowd, debate after debate, saying, “I promise you five things.” Yesh Atid had five flags. The first flag was focused on the Haredi community and the need for the community to become a part of Israeli society by performing military service and joining the labor force. In March 2014 we did what people thought was impossible.

We passed a law regarding Haredi conscription in the military. It’s a law that is very sensitive to the religious side and essentially sets out goals per year for how many Haredim have to serve in the military. But the most important part of that law was actually that anybody 22 and over when the law passed was allowed to go to work. Until this law was passed, if you hadn’t served in the army, you were not allowed to go to work. You had thousands of people sort of trapped in yeshiva and kollel because they weren’t going to serve and they weren’t allowed to go to work and they weren’t going to learn Torah day and night either. Now that these Haredi men are allowed to go to work, we’ve seen a 300% increase in Haredim turning to the government to get job training and go to work.

I run the Knesset task fore for getting Haredim to work and we now get an average of 500 resumes per month from people looking to find work.  The third branch of the law we passed is the branch of general education. We’ve gotten general education into 50 mainstream Haredi schools and there are many more in the process of getting it. We just have to continue building the framework for next year. We have worked to integrate the Haredi community into broader society and I can look back now and look people in the eye and say that is something that we absolutely fulfilled. 

Another promise that we had was electoral reform. We talked about the fact that in the last government, in the 18th Knesset, at a certain point, there were 39 ministers and deputy ministers. It was a complete waste of public money. It was corruption. In Germany, a country ten times larger than Israel, they have 15 ministers and everything is fine. Other countries have under 10.

We said we were going to pass a law to change that. We also took away the job title Minister-Without-Portfolio. There were Knesset members who had the salary of a minister, the car of a minister, a driver, an office and they had no responsibilities. We viewed that as corruption as well and people told us that it would be impossible to get rid of. In March 2014, we passed legislation that when the next Prime Minister forms his government, he will not be allowed to hire more than 18 ministers and no more than 4 deputy ministers. We also abolished the concept of Minister-Without-Portfolio.

From Yesh Atid’s perspective, that’s a tremendous success in making government more cost efficient and removing that element of corruption. That was a promise that we fulfilled.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Just a quick follow up question. Yair Lapid has been coming out very vocally in the media against the corruption that has been coming to light in other political parties. Many pundits have snapped back and said that there might not be any revelations of corruption in Yesh Atid, but that Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid were more than happy to sit in government with these “corrupt” political parties and that this is hypocritical. What is your response to these accusations?

DOV LIPMAN: Absolutely. Let me tell you what our record is. First of all, there are no implications on any level of anybody in Yesh Atid being involved in a scandal, there are no investigations against us, and there won’t be. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that when we were in government issues came up where we showed what we stand for.

For example, when the Prime Minister wanted a private plane, we thought it was the wrong thing for the Prime Minister to do. Yesh Atid was the only party that was against it in the government. When they told us they were raising our salaries as members of the Knesset, we stood up as a party and sent a letter saying we don’t want that. Why are we raising our salaries? We turned to other parties for help and all across the board, we were told, “No, drop that. It’s okay.”

Once again, that’s corruption. That’s leaders doing the wrong thing. Many of us announced that we would donate the extra money we would be making because it’s not fair to the public that we should be getting an increase in our salaries.

I served on the finance committee with Yair. When Yair Lapid became Finance Minister, he said that there has to be complete and total transparency as to where ever single shekel being spent by the government was going. So how did he ensure that? Every single Thursday we got an email listing all the money transfers that we would then vote on the next Monday or Tuesday, so we got enough time to read it over. It’s a lot of material. We would read it over and we’d fill out a form to ask questions of the ministries to get answers as to what the money is going for, so that we would know that when we raised our hands at the vote, we knew exactly where the money was going to. That right there is transparency and oversight and that’s the way it worked for a year and eight months.

Former Finance Minister and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (center) sitting next to Knesset Finance committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky of Bayit HaYehudi (the Jewish Home party). Lipman alleges that the morning after Lapid was dismissed as Finance Minister by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Knesset Finance committee broke protocol and hastily votes on bills allocating hundreds of millions of shekels to unknown sources. 

Yair Lapid was fired one evening by Prime Minister Netanyahu. The next morning we woke up and there was an email in our inboxes sent that morning with reams and reams of transfers with numbers that we never saw before that we were supposed to vote on at nine o’clock that very morning! There was no possibility that we could read it. But there we were a few hours later in the morning and the chairman of the community from Bayit HeYehudi (Jewish Home) is saying, “Who’s in favor of transfer 646?” We didn’t have a clue as to what this money was for. We didn’t know what it was at all about. It went through and hundreds of millions of shekels were transferred over the course of that meeting.

Who was the acting Finance Minister that morning? It was Bibi Netanyahu. That’s an example of corruption in government. When Yesh Atid ran the Finance Minister, we were able to get things done in a transparent and clean way. In one twenty-four hour period, Yair was fired and the floodgates opened. We challenged the system in so many areas.

The 2015 budget that Yesh Atid was about to pass was the most social budget in years. On the table was an increase of 10 billion shekel to all the social ministries without raising taxes. People asked how we could that. “You have to raise taxes,” people said. But actually we didn’t. When you tackle corruption and you go after all of these huge corporations and some of the big names that other parties don’t want to challenge. When you do that it brings revenue to the government and those efforts were whtat was going to pay for it all.

Yesh Atid fought against corruption tremendously in the last government and it we look forward to getting back to work to continue to clean up the government.

MICHAEL BASSIN: The main partner of Yesh Atid in the last government was Bayit HaYehudi, or the Jewish Home party in English. This is one such political party that has faced political scandal in the past few weeks. Bayit HeYehudi had a political alliance with Yesh Atid during coalition negotiations in 2013 that was very widely reported on. Do you think that cooperation with that party is still possible? Bayit HaYehudi, despite the allegations of corruption against them, is polling much higher than Yesh Atid right now. They seem to be getting a boost from their record in the last Knesset, whereas Yesh Atid is being hurt. Why do you think the Israeli public views Bayit HaYehudi more favorably than Yesh Atid?

DOV LIPMAN: Bayit HaYehudi is not doing well in the polls because of their record in the last Knesset. They’re not even running on their record in the last Knesset. We in Yesh Atid are saying “Here is a list of what we did.” Bayit HaYehudi isn’t doing that. Bayit HaYehudi is popular because of strong statements with a lot of bravado that people like without understanding what the ramifications are or what that means for Israel. That’s it.

That’s what Bayit HaYehudi is running on right now. When Naftali Bennett comes out and says, “We’re not going to apologize. We don’t have to apologize. We’re proud Jews. We’re proud Zionists,” that leads people to think, “Oh, he’s the proud Jew. Nobody else is. “ I actually laughed when I saw one of their advertisements that they put out when they wanted to show other people apologizing.

They showed a short little clip of Yair Lapid when he was being interviewed by Charlie Rose. He was asked the question by Charlie Rose, “Do you feel that the occupation is doing something bad for the Jewish people in Israel.”

And Yair Lapid, who was doing an interview in English, said “Uh” for about five seconds as he formulated his answer. He then came out and unequivocally said, “We are not looking for peace with the Palestinians. We are looking for a divorce from the Palestinians.” This was a very strong statement about what Israel needs to do.

Naftali Bennett showed that little section before Yair answered so it looked like he was about to apologize for something. It was misleading and false. Yair Lapid is strong and Zionistic and very Jewish, as are all of us in Yesh Atid. But people like the bravado.

Economy Minister and Bayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) chairman Naftali Bennett dressed up as an apologetic Israeli in a video clip he made urging Israelis to "stop apologizing."

That is what they’re running on right now. I want to mention that the latest polls came out and Bayit HaYehudi was down to 15 mandates and Yesh Atid was up to 12.  That’s not a huge gap. By the way, before the last elections, Bayit HaYehudi was polling at 18 mandates and Yesh Atid was only polling at 10.  Sometimes there’s a lot of bravado, but when it comes to the actual ballot box, people want a party that actually accomplishes things. We can actually show what we’ve done and how we’ve helped your lives.

In terms of the partnership, a lot was accomplished because of that partnership and that’s important to focus on. We were able to keep the Haredi parties out of the government because we aligned with Bayit HaYehudi and that allowed us to pass legislation about the draft and all the progress that’s been made in the Haredi community. We cooperated with them on a lot of women’s issues in the last Knesset. So we don’t look back on it and say that it was a mistake. It was something that made sense at the time.

The only mistake we made though when it comes to Bayit HaYehudi which is critical, especially for secular voters who are impressed with them, is that we didn’t realize how extreme they are on religion and state issues. We didn’t realize that we couldn’t work together with them, especially for secular Israel, on issues of marriage and divorce. We proposed legislation to make things easier and to open things up in the country on religion and state and Bayit HaYehudi actually stopped it in each case, saying that the Chief Rabbi is against it and therefore they can’t support it.

MICHAEL BASSIN: I didn’t get a chance to ask you once again about the third main accomplishment of Yesh Atid.  So far you’ve discussed what Yesh Atid has accomplished in terms of bringing Haredi people into broader society and tackling corruption.

DOV LIPMAN: That’s education. During the elections two years ago, we focused heavily on discussing how Israel has plummeted in education in relation to the rest of the world in the past decade. We used to be in the top 10 in the world and now we’re in the 30’s and 40’s. Rabbi Shai Piron, the Education Minister from Yesh Atid, has been hard at work on a process to totally change the way education is done in Israel.

Just a few tangible examples include narrowing down the complex bagruyot matriculation exams to a few tests. That’s the way countries that are at the top of the world in education do it. That’s something that we are in the process of doing.

We initiated the establishment of technology-based high schools for kids around the country who cannot study and flourish in a regular classroom setting. With vocational high schools these kids will not only run to school every day, they will graduate high school with a real skill to be able to earn a living. We have started that process. We have established five such schools so far and there is a plan each year to increase that number.

Israel now has summer-time programming for children thanks to Yesh Atid. We said the Education Ministry has to take responsibility for that and we established a summertime program. Last summer it was for first and second grades. Next summer it will be implemented for third and fourth grades too. These programs save parents 500-1000 shekels for the month of July per child. That’s something we’re very proud of.

Another major educational issue we were on the verge of solving is related to classroom sizes. That’s a big problem in Israel. Classrooms are too big and teachers are teaching over 30 students. Shai Piron established a committee to determine how to tackle that problem. The committee made its recommendations and in the 2015 budget the Prime Minister rejected, there was an increase of three billion shekels for education largely to deal with the issue of classroom sizes. We promised an overhaul in education and we are certainly well on our way to overhauling the way education is done in Israel.

So those are three promises out of five that we made and a year and eight months later we can say that they’ve been fulfilled.

MICHAEL BASSIN: And the other two?

DOV LIPMAN: The other two were related to cost of living in general in Israel and housing. 

I’ll start with housing. We had a four-point plan to bring down the cost of housing. The first thing that we wanted to do was increase the amount of units that are being built. All the experts say that if you want to bring down the cost of housing, you have to increase the amount of units that are being built. In our first year we got a plan approved for 100,000 new units to be built all over the country. This happened. That was part number 1 of the plan.

Number 2 was a plan involving targeted pricing, which included releasing land to contractors on a condition that they sell the units with a certain targeted price.

Number 3 was increasing the number of rentals all across the country.  150,000 low-cost rentals to influence the housing market. Very low-cost rentals for people who are not yet ready to buy, but they would go into an agreement where there would be control over the prices.

Number 4 gives those who served in the army, young couples, the ability to buy apartments at 0% VAT, which would save them 240,000 shekels. That’s something that for a limited group would make a significant impact. 

Many aspects of our plans, including increasing how much is built, is already happening. Low and behold October 2014 was the first time in seven years that housing costs went down in Israel. That’s a result of all these programs. Unfortunately, they’re going to go back up again because the Prime Minister rejected our program of 0% VAT and some of the other plans. These plans are stuck at the moment, but we very much believe that we put in place the right reforms to bring down the cost of housing and in October 2014 we saw the result of that.

MICHAEL BASSIN: How much of the Israeli population was the 0% VAT plan really going to affect?

DOV LIPMAN: Tens of thousands would have received that benefit. But people think that was our plan to tackle the housing problem. That was the fourth element in the overall plan. The major part of the plan is increasing the amount that is built and the targeted pricing.

MICHAEL BASSIN: If the 0% VAT plan is intended for married couples, will it include gay couples as well?

DOV LIPMAN: Yes, it was done in a way where anyone who was recognized in Israel as a married couple would qualify. That’s for sure.

MICHAEL BASSIN: What can you say about Yesh Atid’s efforts to battle the cost of living?

DOV LIPMAN: First of all, thanks to Yesh Atid’s efforts, every person in Israel this month will see their electricity prices go down by 10%. That’s not a campaign promise. That’s a fact. In terms of food prices over the course of the last year, those have gone down 3%. We have to do a lot more, but that’s while the rest of the OECD countries food prices have risen 4%.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Why are food prices going down?

DOV LIPMAN: Basically, we increased competition. We made it easier to bring in imports. We tackled the 19 powerhouse supermarket chains to make things more transparent,so we could come closer towards having a more open industry. Even though we’re not thrilled with this as a mark of economic policy, we did get involved in regulating some of the prices as well in the case of emergency situations.

Our policies resulted in the reduction of prices. There’s a lot a lot more that has to be done, but we have absolutely no doubt that we’ll be able to continue driving those prices down.

MICHAEL BASSIN: The Israeli public is very confused by politicians these days. Every politician, including Yair Lapid, claims that he/she has answers to solving the problems related housing and the cost of living. Why is it so difficult to tackle these issues so effectively and what makes them so complex?

DOV LIPMAN: Well there’s no doubt that you’re going to have different philosophies with this question. Some of them are more socialist. Some of them are more capitalist. But the biggest issue is the willingness to challenge the monopolies and the major corporations in Israel. That’s the biggest issue and you have to have someone who is not bound to these people and is willing to take on that corruption.

Many Israeli political parties have central committees, which politicians are bound to if they want to get elected during their primaries. Yesh Atid does not have a central committee and we’re not beholden to anybody. We feel totally free to tackle corporate greed.

By battling corruption, we can lower the cost of living. The Prime Minister insisted on raising taxes to lower the cost of living. The candidate for Finance Minister from the Labor Party, Manuel Trajtenberg, said that he wants to raise taxes. We believe that that’s the wrong thing to do. You don’t raise taxes on hard-working Israelis. There are other ways to find those resources and that’s a big part of the battle that we’re fighting and why we need the strength to be able to continue the battle we’ve been doing.

I’ll give you another example of something. There are all kinds of government companies throughout Israel.

You have the electric company, you have the ports, you have the mail, and you have the port authority. These are companies that are officially private, but they are under the auspices of the government. They function within a framework of the government ministries even though they are private and removed from it. So what happens? In the past, ministers would just hire their friends, their family members, their supporters and their donors to run these corporations and they became places of complete corruption.

Yair Lapid came into office and said, “Enough of that!” He insisted there would be no more ministers appointing the directors or these companies. He insisted that a professional committee that made these decision of who to hire so it could become completely divorced from the politicians. And sure enough, last year, a program was set up where anybody in the country who wants to be director of a government agency or government company can submit his or her candidacy. A non-biased committee then made the decisions as to who would be running these corporations. Rules were made to ensure that 45% of hires were male, 45% were female, and another 10% were made up of various minorities. It worked the first year and the government just announced that in 2015 the same process has begun.

That is a huge step towards removing major, major corruption in the way things are done. That will have an impact on people’s pockets because when you don’t have political appointees, but you have professionals running the mail or running the ports or running the electricity, those are people that will try to make it more efficient and bring the costs down instead of just serving whatever politicians appointed them.

MICHAEL BASSIN: You mentioned the new darling of the Labor party, Manuel Trajtenberg, who was tasked by Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2011 to formulate a series of recommendations for lowering the cost of living following the social protests of that year. He has come out very publicly saying that Yair Lapid was a failure at being the Finance Minister. He says he didn’t have the right background or experience and that Israel is worse off for it now than it was two years. What is your response?

DOV LIPMAN: I would ask him to respond to the various things that I have said. My response to any criticism is everything we’ve done. People who are critical have to answer to that. We have a Prime Minister who last week stood up in a Channel 2 interview and said that he wanted to re-start construction in the center of the country two years ago, but that Yair Lapid is the one who stopped it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under massive criticism last week after he alleged that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Finance Minister Yair Lapid were the parties solely responsible for the lack of construction in Israel's center under his premiership.

Then Netanyahu said he wanted to move military bases to the south to clear land for housing in the center of the country and that Yair didn’t want that either. That’s what he said. He blamed Yair Lapid. Two hours later, Channel 2 reporters released transcripts from a June 3, 2013 meeting where Lapid made the announcement that the government would move military bases to the south, so that we could build houses in those areas in the center of the country in accordance with Yesh Atid’s plans. The Prime Minister, barely two years later, not only didn’t give Yair Lapid credit for initiating this plan. He blamed him for torpedoing it! All of a sudden the information comes out and we see the reality on the ground.

So, those questions have to be asked to the people who are criticizing and not to us. My answer is everything that I just laid out for you.

MICHAEL BASSIN: I want to go back to one more question about the housing issue. What can the public reasonably expect the Israeli government to accomplish with regards to lowering the cost of housing. Is it possible that people are looking to government to solve these problems when in reality it’s out of government control?

DOV LIPMAN: There is a reason the cost of housing is directly within the government’s control. 93% of the land in Israel is owned by the government. The government can play a huge role in bringing down the cost of housing. This is the Jewish state. For two thousand years, we didn’t have a home. It should be our goal that people can be able to afford a home. I do think it’s the government’s responsibility to help out, but I also know the government really can because it owns that land.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid have been getting a lot of flack from a lot of places. Prime Minister Netanyahu blames you for supposedly torpedoing housing plans and refusing to move military bases. Manuel Trajtenberg says Lapid was a flop as Finance Minister. Media outlets in general, especially at the beginning of this election season, portrayed the national mood as being very skeptical of Yesh Atid and Yair Lapid. There’s this notion that Israel is jaded by this political party that promised change. Why do you think the public seems to be so angry and disappointed with Yesh Atid?

DOV LIPMAN: We were attacked as soon as we came into office. You know we were this new party that came in with 19 seats and we were in the center of the political map. That means we take votes from the right and the left, so we automatically become a target for all parties. That’s something that we’ve dealt with since the beginning. We know that once we get out there and explain to people what we’ve done and what we were on the verge of doing with the 2015 budget, which the Prime Minister stopped, people will support us and we’ll see a rise in the polls. And that’s exactly what’s happening.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Yes, but you know I hear a lot of people say, “I voted for Yesh Atid in 2013 and now I’m very disappointed in them.” These people I’m referring to are not those people who casually read the newspaper or can’t understand political nuances. These are very smart, thinking people. Where you think their anger or disappointment should be placed?

DOV LIPMAN: I don’t think their anger should go anywhere. I think they should listen to what was accomplished in this last year and eight months and recognize how much we did and how we’re on the right path and continue supporting a party that’s truly interested in making a difference and making change.

MICHAEL BASSIN: Is Israel in a better position now than it was two years ago?

DOV LIPMAN: Absolutely. When we came into office, we found a forty billion shekels deficit and we were able to cover that and pay for a seven billion shekel war without raising taxes as a result. We were able to give a billion shekels to Holocaust survivors and help them get their medications and pay their bills within that 2014 budget. There’s no doubt that things are better and I want people understand exactly what was on the table with the 2015 budget and where things were headed. Housing prices are going in the right direction and electricity and food prices are going down. It takes two years for plans to fully take hold and make a difference. Israel is absolutely in a better position now than it was two years ago.

MICHAEL BASSIN: How did Yesh Atid, a party that is known for being masters of social media and PR, let their reputation plummet?

DOV LIPMAN: The public became concerned and we plummeted in the polls because of the 2014 budget. We found a forty billion shekel deficit and we had to make cuts all across the board. Yair met with us and told us we were going to plummet in the polls, but that we’d be doing the responsible thing. We’re not here to be popular. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s to do the right thing and what’s responsible. It allowed the economy to rebound and we covered the deficit. The 2015 budget is the most social budget in years and the Prime Minister knew that, by the way, which is one of the reasons he called elections before passing the budget.

Think about that lack of responsibility on the Prime Minister’s part. We’re functioning right now without a budget. Why didn’t he just pass the budget first and then go to elections if he felt like he couldn’t work together with Yair Lapid or Yesh Atid? We’ll be back though. The keys are still in the switch, and we are ready for ignition to get going on our plans. You put us back into office and we will move forward with that 2015 budget, which will help everybody in Israel.

MICHAEL BASSIN: It seems that there’s a lot of animosity right now between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yesh Atid. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is reelected, would Yesh Atid not sit in a future Likud-led government?

DOV LIPMAN: We will not make that kind of statement. That’s an irresponsible thing to do at this time. We are saying that there’s no doubt there is a goal to topple Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s not the right person for that job and he’s been destructive for Israel. After elections we’ll have to see what the situation is and with whom we can move forward with our vision and our plans. If we’re able to do that, then we don’t invalidate anybody. That’s the approach we take. It’s a question of values and it’s a question of priorities. It’s not a question of personality. 

MICHAEL BASSIN: Right now Likud and the joint slate of Labor and Hatnua are considered the most likely parties to form the next coalition. They are basically running neck and neck in the polls. Should Yesh Atid be in the conversation well as a potential challenger for the role of forming the next government?

DOV LIPMAN: Obviously, people looking at the polls see that we’re polling at twelve seats, so they don’t see that as an option. I will tell you that as we get closer to Election Day, we will absolutely be a part of that conversation.

MICHAEL BASSIN: It’s been speculated that part of the problem with this election cycle is that Yesh Atid is no longer than shiny new party. That time has passed. This election’s new golden party is Kulanu, led by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon. With this new centrist party competing with Yesh Atid for voters, do you think people view Yesh Atid as being just a flash in the pan? Why should voters see Yesh Atid as a party that’s here to stay, unlike say Kadima?

DOV LIPMAN: Yesh Atid was put together in a way that’s very different from other parties. We weren’t career politicians searching for just another place to sit. We came from outside of politics to make a change and we’re in it for the long haul. A few days before the last election we were polling at eight and we got nineteen seats. Now we’re polling at twelve. We’re very confident in terms of our standing. Kulanu is a party with good people that is very similar ideologically to us, and it is definitely a possibility that there will be some sort of joint cooperation either before or after the elections. Right now, we’re just out there spreading our message and we can see the results. Yair Lapid spends every single night speaking at different locations around the country and they have to stop people at the door due to fire regulations in the room.

Moshe Kahlon is a popular former Israeli Minister of Communication from the Likud who left that party to found a new centrist party called Kulanu. Many pundits say Kulanu is the new "it" party of this election season.

Once people hear the message regarding what we’ve accomplished and what we’re on the verge of accomplishing, we’ll be right back in the mix of it in terms of rising in the polls and being a major player in the elections.

MICHAEL BASSIN: What was the most difficult challenge you didn’t anticipate in the last Knesset and what success are you most proud of?

DOV LIPMAN: The most difficult challenge was dealing with Bayit HaYehudi on issues of religion and state. I thought we’d be able to accomplish a lot more and that was very frustrating to realize that a party that portrayed itself as being so connected with the secular population and all about unity was really a bunch of hidden religious extremists. That was a real source of frustration.

What I’m most proud of is the Haredi task force. We have helped Haredim who were previously living off government handouts get to work. The emails and letters I get from people in the Haredi community really warm my heart. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I really helped make a difference for these people.

MICHAEL LIPMAN: Now that you’re a little wiser and more experienced, both you and the party, what is your and Yesh Atid’s vision for the state of Israel for the next four years?

DOV LIPMAN: The vision is that we should become a more unified society. We aim to break down barriers. Haredi people should become more and more integrated into Israeli society and play a stronger role. In general, getting people off welfare and off to work. That’s a major focus of ours. In terms of solving poverty, it’s getting people who are younger off welfare and off to work and transferring the money that goes to them to help senior citizens and help them because that’s a core Jewish value.

We want to create a society where all citizens feel they can thrive and flourish. Looking back on the past year and eight months, I realized that it’s possible. It’s possible in four years to really take meaningful steps to get that done and that’s what we at Yesh Atid are looking forward to doing to continuing to do.

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