Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Yair Lapid, for now, is the caretaker prime minister of Israel. Next week at the polls, however, Israelis will determine his fitness to remain as head of their government. One factor that voters may wish to take into account is his lack of an education: Yair Lapid never matriculated from high school.

Informed of this juicy tidbit, Israelis not to the right will laugh in your face. The fact is, however, indisputable. The naysayers may go to Google to prove you wrong, pointing to the scanty text falling under Lapid’s official Knesset biography, which suggests that he has, at the very least, attained a baccalaureate degree:


Studies toward MA in Hermeneutics and Culture Studies, Bar Ilan University.

But dig a little further and one arrives closer to the truth, as in this Hebrew-language biography of Lapid at Ynet:

:השכלה של יאיר לפיד

בוגר הגימנסיה העברית הרצליה, ללא זכאות לתעודת בגרות. התקבל ללימודי תואר שני במסלול מהיר לדוקטורט מטעם אוניברסיטת בר אילן, אך עזב לאור איסור המל"ג על קבלת סטודנטים ללא תואר אקדמי.

Google translates this as (emphasis added):

Yair Lapid's education:

Graduated from the Herzliya Hebrew High School, without eligibility for a matriculation certificate. He was admitted to master's studies on a fast-track path to a doctorate on behalf of Bar Ilan University, but left in light of the ban on accepting students without an academic degree.

In other words, it’s against the rules, but the university was going to look the other way and give Lapid a master’s. Unfortunately, someone noticed and that someone was the Council for Higher Education (CHE), the official authority for higher education in Israel and the body responsible for this country’s higher education policy. In 2012, CHE recommended sanctions* for Bar Ilan as a result of its offer to give Lapid some lickety-split education on the sly (emphasis added):

The Council for Higher Education will recommend on Tuesday imposing sanctions on Bar-Ilan University for violating regulations on accepting students for advanced degrees. The investigation was launched after Haaretz revealed that Bar-Ilan had accepted Yair Lapid directly to a Master's and then a doctoral program without him having [a] B.A. degree.

The CHE ordered its committee on supervision and enforcement to investigate the matter, and the committee will meet on Tuesday and recommend action against the university.

All other Israeli universities were asked to report any similar violations by the middle of February, but the Council of University Presidents said Tuesday that, as far as it knows, only Bar-Ilan admitted such students against the rules. However, a Bar-Ilan official said he thinks all of the universities do the same.

Lapid was accepted onto Bar-Ilan's prestigious culture and interpretation graduate program, which accepts only candidates who received a B.A. degree with honors. Lapid, a news and media personality whose recent announcement of his Knesset candidacy was accompanied by reports of skyrocketing popularity in polls, has no undergraduate degree.

In response, the CHE launched an investigation. The university says Lapid was accepted into the demanding master's and doctoral programs on the basis of his "literary and journalistic achievements."

Someone might want to tell Haaretz that not only does Lapid not have an undergraduate degree, he did not even pass the bagrut—the rigorous Israeli high school matriculation examinations. Should we be disturbed by Lapid’s lack of academic credentials? And isn’t it kind of embarrassing for Israel to have a prime minister who didn’t finish high school?

That depends on your point of view. Is he otherwise qualified?

Abraham Lincoln Marovitz

Well, let’s put it this way, he’s no Abraham Lincoln Marovitz. Marovitz earned his Bachelor of Laws in 1925 at the age of 19, when he was still 20 months too young to sit for the Illinois bar exam. He took the exam when he turned 21, and passed it on his first try. But Marovitz attended law school without benefit of a college degree. "In those days, you didn't need a college degree to go to law school," Marovitz later said. "So that's how I wound up the only sitting federal judge who never went to college."

Of course, even the boy wonder that was Marovitz, matriculated from high school.

Bar Ilan’s claim that it accepted Lapid for a masters and subsequent doctoral program (!) because of his “literary and journalistic achievements” doesn’t even begin to pass the smell test. It is far more likely that Lapid’s political star had begun to rise, so he thought he’d talk to someone and snag a couple of college degrees PDQ, because hey. That lack of education: It’s not a good look for a prime minister.  

Lapid, like me, is a writer and a journalist. He never studied political science. He’s not a lawyer or an economist. But he does have great hair and his English is good. Also his father was Tommy Lapid.

Are these CVs, added to his experience in office, enough to sway the balance against his failure to obtain a high school diploma? From this writer's perspective, it seems doubtful. And here is why:

Some years ago, I applied for a job with a Jerusalem think tank. They loved my cover letter and resume. I stood out from all the candidates. But there was nothing about education on my resume, could I just fill in for them that missing bit?

At that point, the jig was up and I had to tell them that I was not a college graduate. To which they said, “You’re otherwise perfect for us, but as a government-affiliated think tank, there’s no way we can hire someone without even a bachelor's degree.”

I was disappointed, but I had learned a lesson: I too, was no Abraham Lincoln Marovitz. If I wanted a job at that level, I was going to have to put in the time and work necessary to earn it. And if I wasn’t willing to do that, I had to set my sights elsewhere. 

It’s pretty basic: without that college degree, I was not qualified for that particular job, no matter how much knowledge or wisdom I had managed to accumulate.

But like I said, even matriculated from high school. Which leads to a thought:

It is not that difficult to arrange to sit for the Israeli high school matriculation exams, no matter one’s age or station in life. Shouldn’t the Israeli electorate, at the very least, demand that a prime minister have a high school degree under his or her belt? And shouldn’t this be codified into law?

*The Haaretz piece linked to here is behind a paywall.

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