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Yair Lapid: courting the middle class
Former TV journalist Yair Lapid has unveiled his new plan to get strictly Orthodox teens active outside their communities.
Mr Lapid, who announced the formation of a new political party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future), this week, launched the plan at a rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. His message was unequivocal: "We don't hate you, we just can't financially support you any more."
His intention, he said, was to reach out to strictly Orthodox leaders over the heads of strictly Orthodox politicians. "We are not against you. Don't believe anyone that says that we hate you," he said. "But we can't do national service alone… everyone must serve."
The plan, which Mr Lapid calls "Equal Service for All", would award government stipends only to those who serve in the IDF or perform national service.
The scheme envisages spending the next five years establishing a government unit that will decide where every 18-year-old will serve, with all sectors of society, including the Charedim and the Arabs, participating. Mr Lapid's plan would give the army the authority to decide who should do military service or national service.
For the first five years, Charedi students would be exempt from IDF service. Instead, the brightest students would study in yeshivahs while the rest would join the work-force. Mr Lapid's spokeswoman, Nilly Richman, said that the party did not yet have specific parameters for deciding which students would still receive an exemption from service in order to study in yeshivah.
The scheme would be an alternative to the now repealed Tal law, which afforded yeshivah students blanket exemption from military service.
While Yesh Atid has not yet announced who will be on its list for the Knesset, Ms Richman said that they were looking for people who would be part of their campaign "to represent the middle class that no party is representing."
The list may include National Union of Israeli Students chairman Itzik Shmuli, a leader of last year's social justice protest, who is expected to announce soon his plans to enter politics.
Asked why Mr Lapid had chosen not to join a pre-existing party, such as the centrist Kadima, Ms Richman said that he "doesn't want to be part of the skeleton of an existing party".
The decision meant that Yesh Atid would not have the same economic resources as existing parties and would have less money for campaigning.
In a position statement published earlier this week, the party announced its central goal as "forming a large, meaningful, political power that will bring a change in the priorities of the state of Israel and finally give real representation to the middle class."
One of the central slogans of Mr Lapid's campaign so far has been "Where is the money?" The slogan touches on issues such as government subsidies for the Charedi population that is not part of the work-force, and the rising cost of living which affects the Israeli middle class that is Yesh Atid's target audience.