The former chairman of the secular Shinui Party, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, died early Sunday morning at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv at the age of 77. He was suffering from cancer.
The veteran journalist and politician had been hospitalized six months ago after suffering a heart attack at his home.
Lapid served as chairman of the world-famous Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial council, having himself lost his most of his family in World War II. He was born in Benovitz, Serbia, as Tomislav Lempel, son to a well-to-do Reform-Jewish family. He immigrated to Israel with his mother from Yugoslavia in 1948. The two arrived three years after losing Lapid's father, who died in a concentration camp just two weeks before the war ended.
A long-time journalist (he served on the editorial board of the Hebrew-language Ma'ariv newspaper), he also served as director of the Israel Broadcast Authority, director of Israel TV (when Israel had only one TV station) and chairman of the cable television union. In 1998 he was awarded the Sokolov Prize for Print Journalism, Israel's equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize. He also wrote a series of successful travel guides.
In 1998 Lapid was asked by Shinui, a centrist party founded in the 1970's, to head its list for the Knesset, after polls showed it would not make it into the Knesset in the upcoming elections. Lapid accepted the request and led Shinui to an electoral success, with six MKs in the 15th Knesset. The party's messages concentrated on opposition to what it termed "religious coercion" and it vowed to force hareidi-religious men to serve in the military. Lapid's anti-religious line proved popular and in the 2003 elections to the 16th Knesset Shinui grew to 15 MKs, and became the third largest party. Interestingly, Lapid was also responsible for sponsoring together with the United Torah Judaism Party a law that outlawed missionary activity as well.
Lapid became a major force in the government, serving as Justice Minister and deputy Prime Minister. He was a supporter of Supreme Court President Aharon Barak's policy of "judicial activism" and of the Disengagement from Gaza, as well as Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyhau's economic reforms. Shinui also succeeded in pushing through a reform which lowered child allowances for families with many children, a move which was seen as detrimental to the interests of the hareidi-religious and Arab populations. In late 2004 the party was ousted from the government after voting against the budget. It began plummeting in the polls after Ariel Sharon founded Kadima and did not make it into the 17th Knesset. Lapid quit politics in 2006 and chose instead to return to journalism.
Tommy Lapid and his wife, the writer Shulamit Lapid, were parents to three children: journalist Yair, Meirav and Michal, who was killed in a car accident in 1984.