Yosef “Tommy” Lapid– a Holocaust survivor, a militantly secular Israeli Zionist, a former journalist and cabinet minister– has died at 77.
Starting in 1999, Lapid headed the Shinui (Change) party, which opposed the special privileges (subsidies, military deferments, etc.) the government traditionally provides to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities. Shinui supported efforts to allow non-religious civil marriage and divorce in Israel, and stood up for the right to sell pork products.
In 2003 Shinui won 15 seats in the Knesset and became Israel’s third largest political party. However, as Israeli parties often do, it collapsed in the next election.
[B]orn under the name Tomislav Lampel in Benovitz, Serbia, Lapid later left politics to become chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial council.
During the war, his father was taken to a concentration camp and was killed two weeks before liberation. Lapid and his mother were placed with a group of Jews in Budapest whom the Nazis planned on killing along the banks of the river Danube. He was saved at the last minute, however, after his mother hid him and herself inside a toilet.
“As I’ve said, there I became a Zionist,” Lapid told Haaretz in a 1995 interview, “because there I understood that there is not enough space in the whole world for a 13-year-old Jewish boy – so there must be one place for us. In Israel.”
I remember Lapid during my time in Israel as one of the regulars on the weekly TV talk show Popolitica, sitting around a table with others Israelis– secular and religious, leftists and rightists, doves and hawks, Jews and Arabs– engaging in that most Israeli of activities: arguing with each other.
Update: As Judy and other commenters point out, Lapid had a very dark side too. I should have spent more time looking into it before posting.