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Why did a piece of legislation move a tough politician to tears in the Israeli Knesset?

Here’s the Yair Lapid that many outside Israel don’t know

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives to a Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 22, 2022. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Outside of Israel, Yair Lapid is known as a dominant figure in national politics, a centrist who leads the second largest party in the Knesset and is currently the foreign minister and plans to become prime minister in the fall of 2023.

But what many do not know is why a piece of proposed legislation brought him to tears on the floor of the parliament on Sunday.

“This is the most important thing you’ll ever do,” Lapid told Knesset members referring to a bill that would allocate $595 million to help people with disabilities transition into independent adulthood and integrate into society.

Lapid’s own daughter, Yael, is on the autism spectrum and does not speak. During the government session, Lapid shared “physical and emotional pain felt by parents” who have a child with disabilities and “the fact that Yael can’t speak and tell her parents she loves them.”

Lapid – who with his wife, Lehi, has been an advocate for people with disabilities – proposed the bill along with Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the bill was “another historic step toward integrating people with disabilities” into society. It would “officially define the rights and services of people with disabilities by law.”

“This law will provide opportunities and rights for people with disabilities and will dramatically change their lives and the lives of their families,” Bennett said.

The funding would be used to help integrate adults with disabilities into the work place and independent living situations and, among other things, provide translation services into sign language.

Knesset Member Shirley Pinto, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, is deaf and has contributed to new legislation that take into consideration people with specific needs.

“Our government has done much for people with disabilities in Israel because it is the right thing to do and we are all proud of this. Just last week we approved an important amendment that will change the lives of many people, and which will provide for 100 new accessible inter-city buses for people with disabilities so that they will be able to go to work, to their families and to studies,” Bennett said.

Kalman Samuels, the founder of Shalva – an organization in Jerusalem that runs a plethora of programs for children (and now also adults) with disabilities – welcomed the legislation which he said “empowers families” to make their own decisions about what they need most.

“It gives tremendous dignity to the family that we are making our own child’s lives' benefits, we are contributing to the choices here, it’s not someone else is dictating to us,” Samuels told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “It makes the children and the families much more independent. It will contribute to inclusion, that the child will have access to different services and not just institutional services.”

“Shalva is situated to be able to provide those services in so many different areas so it will enrich the lives of so many families that will now be able to be part of Shalva in various forms of services,” Samuels continued.

With its recent expansion, Shalva has begun providing vocational training, employment and independent living residences for adults with disabilities in the Jerusalem area. 

“It makes me very happy that we will be able to contribute so much more to so many more people,” Samuels said.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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