Charlie Rose: In traveling last week through Hungary and Eastern Europe, what did you discover about anti-Semitism today?
Yair Lapid: That it exists. Listen, in Hungary, there’s Jobbik, which is an Anti-Semitic party – the party that has tried to push a bill mandating a countdown, a limit to how many Jews there are in Hungary. This is in 2013. They have 11% of the seats in the Hungarian parliament.
Yet when you live in America, you don’t feel it too much; especially in New York, which is still the largest Jewish city in the world. But when you are [in Europe] you feel it.
While I was there, I took my son to visit a weird place. I took my son to visit a public lavatory. Why?
Because in February 1945, my father was this thirteen-year-old kid in the Budapest ghetto, and he was living in a basement the size of this stage with 400 other people.
And by February, the Russians were approaching Budapest. So the Nazis along with the Hungarian Fascists started to take the Jews in death convoys to the Danube River. There they ordered the Jews to dig holes in the ice, and then they would shoot them into the Danube. And the Danube was red.
One early morning, they gathered the people from my father’s block. It was a death convoy of about 600 people, and they began to march them towards the Danube. At a certain point along the way, a Russian plane flew low over this convoy, causing turmoil – shouting and screaming. And my grandma was there – my grandfather was already dead in Mauthausen concentration camp – but my grandma was there, and she pushed my father into this little public lavatory and said, ‘You have to pee now.’…
And he did ‘cause he was a good kid, and she closed the door behind them.
And from this convoy of 600 people, 598 were dead under the ice of the Danube River by sundown.
But my father and my grandmother were standing, by themselves, in the middle of the street, next to this little public lavatory, and they were freed – they could go anywhere. The whole world was open to them. Here in America, the Midwest: there were thousands of miles that no one had settled. Or Australia from Melbourne to Perth, which you can fly over, and for five hours you won’t see a single soul.
Soon Paris was liberated and London was free, and yet my father – a thirteen-year-old Jewish kid – had no place to go to.
And many years later, he and I went to Budapest together, and we were walking down the street, when suddenly he stopped and he began to cry. I didn’t understand, because the street was empty and there was only a public lavatory. And he said, ‘This is it. This is where I was reborn. This is where you were born.
And this is the place I realized that I would survive and soon need a place to go.’
And this is why we need the state of Israel. Because we always need a place to go.
From Charlie Rose’s October 7th interview with Israeli Minister of Finance Yair Lapid at New York’s famed 92nd St. Y.
In the above photograph: Lapid posing in his home office in Tel Aviv following an Associated Press interview.
Lapid is a fascinating political figure who, in his recent foray into government, stands as a model for what kind of leader a functioning democracy should attract. After a successful career as a writer and television personality, Lapid felt compelled to “put his money where his mouth was” and found his own political party, Yesh Atid (“There Is a Future”). This decidedly moderate party, which stands between the left-wing Israeli labor party on the one hand, and Netanyahu’s center-right Likud and Naftali Bennett’s conservative Jewish Home on the other, won 19 seats in the Knesset in the last election and is now the second-largest party (behind Likud) in the Israeli parliament.
Lapid, who maintains close ties with his counterparts on both sides of the ideological spectrum, steered Yesh Atid to partner in the governing coalition. He was then nominated to be the Israeli Minister of Finance, and just last week the Israeli government posted an “enormous budget surplus”.
Lapid’s meteoric rise and sustained popularity among the Israeli people may seem anomalous to us in the United States, where so often public figures (especially those from the entertainment industry) make ill-advised forays into politics, only to look plastic, inept, or overwhelmed when under the hot lights and mics of the media. Yet as you can see illustrated handsomely below, Lapid projects a suave authenticity and acuity that are both rare, reassuring, and compelling.