Lapid grew up in Tel Aviv and London. His childhood home in Tel Aviv was in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood, in a residential building known as the Journalists’ Residence, as several prominent journalists lived there. He attended high school at the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, but struggled with learning disabilities and dropped out without earning a bagrut certificate.
He began his mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces in the 500th Brigade of the Armored Corps. During the 1982 Lebanon War, Lapid suffered an asthma attack after inhaling dust kicked up by a helicopter, and was pulled from the Armored Corps. He then served as a military correspondent for the IDF’s weekly newspaper, Bamahane (“In the base camp”).
After completing his military service, he began working as a reporter for Maariv and published poetry in literary journals. He also had a career as an amateur boxer at this time.
In the mid-1980s, Lapid married Tamar Friedman. They later divorced, and he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in the television industry. He later returned to Israel, where he resumed his journalism career.
In 1988, at the age of 25, he was appointed editor of the Tel Aviv local newspaper published by the Yediot Achronot group. He started writing a weekly column in 1991 called “Where’s the Money” in the weekend supplement of Maariv and, later, for its competitor Yediot Achronot.
Lapid’s television talk show career began when he started to host a popular Friday evening program on Israel’s Channel 1 in 1994. He later hosted talk shows on Channel 3 and, from 1999 until 2012, hosted one on Channel 2. He acted in the Israeli film “Song of the Siren,” and also wrote a drama series called “War Room” that Channel 2 aired in 2004.
In January 2008, Lapid hosted “Ulpan Shishi,” a Friday-night news-magazine on Channel 2. Also in 2008, the Cameri Theater performed Lapid’s first play, The Right Age for Love.
Prior to his entry into politics, Lapid was active in numerous social organizations, including the ALEH association to assist people with special needs, the Children at Risk Organization for children with autism, and the YRF association for educating disadvantaged youth. He also chaired the Miftan Tsfat Friends Association and taught citizenship in a school in Jaffa.
On January 8, 2012, Lapid announced he planned to retire from professional journalism to enter politics. At the end of the month, he officially registered himself as the chairman of a new political party called Yesh Atid (Hebrew: יש עתיד, lit., “There is a Future”), which focused on improving the economic conditions of the middle class, giving all Israelis a more equal share of the burden, rights and obligations of citizenship, promoting education; and striving for a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians.
In October 2012, following the departure of Kadima from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition over how to implement a Supreme Court decision ending the exemption from the military draft for the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu announced that elections would take place in late January 2013
Lapid campaigned on a centrist Zionist platform focused mainly on domestic issues, but he also criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank and advocated a two-state solution to solve the Palestinian issue. By November 2012, Lapid was doing so well in pre-election polling that he was expected to win 13 or 14 seat in the Knesset. The final results of the election, however, exceeded these expectations – Yesh Atid won a surprising 19 seats, making the party the second-largest represented in the 19th Knesset.
Seen as a serious future rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to keep him close while denying him the portfolio for one of the ministries – defense or foreign affairs – that would most enhance his prestige. Instead, he was appointed to the far less visible position of Minister of Finance, which saddled him with much of the blame for dissatisfaction with the economy.
For the first time in Israel’s history, no religious parties were in the government, making it possible to introduce legislation that would have caused crises in previous coalitions. For example, Lapid pushed for increased public transportation on Shabbat, as opposed to the current law which mandates most public transportation shut down. He also supports making it possible to have civil marriages in Israel rather than requiring them to be certified by the Orthodox religious authorities. Further angering the religious establishment, Lapid advocated the drafting of yeshiva students to end the inequality of nearly all other Jewish Israelis have to serve in the military, going so far as to threaten to bring down the government unless ultra-Orthodox were subject to criminal prosecution for draft-dodging.
Some Haredim have declared that even at the risk of being called criminals, they will continue in their Jewish studies and refuse to enlist or perform community service. Lapid denied he was seeking to destroy the Haredi way of life: “Not one of us wishes, Heaven forbid, to force hiloniyut (secularism) on you or to impose our version of Israeli identity. This state was established so that Jews could be Jews, and live as Jews, without having to fear anyone.”
With Yesh Atid in the government, it was possible some of these measures might be adopted; however, Lapid was fired on December 2, 2014, along with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni over disagreements about budget measures, settlements, and a controversial Israeli Jewish nationalism bill.
Outside the government, Lapid has made fighting corruption one of his main themes. He also favors a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the goal of reaching an agreement for “two states for two peoples,” without removing the large settlement blocs or dividing Jerusalem. He said, “We’re not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but for a divorce agreement we can live with.”
In September 2015, Lapid laid out his diplomatic vision in a major speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he said, “Israel’s strategic goal needs to be a regional agreement that will lead to full and normal relations with the Arab world and the creation of a demilitarized independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. That’s where Israel needs to head. Separation from the Palestinians with strict security measures will save the Jewish character of the state.”
Lapid also supports recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. He noted in 2017 that with Iran attempting to establish a foothold in Syria, Israel cannot be expected to relinquish the Golan Heights.
Lapid is a vocal opponent of the BDS movement, which seeks to economically isolate Israel. “We can no longer abandon this battle to the haters of Israel. We need to defend Israel’s good name in the world. They are besmirching us, and the time has come to answer them.”
He has also been critical of the United Nations. In an op-ed, he complained the Human Rights Council adopted “61 resolutions condemning human rights abuses across the world, and 67 resolutions which condemned Israel” in the past decade. Lapid traces the UN’s bias against Israel to the creation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which services only Palestinian refugees and gives them hereditary status so that the number of refugees it recognizes has expanded from an original estimate of 320,000 to more than five million today.
Lapid, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, spoke out against Poland’s controversial Holocaust bill, which would criminalize accusing the Polish nation for being complicit in the Holocaust. Lapid stated that, “No Polish law will change history, Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered on its soil without them having met any German officer.”
In 2019, Lapid decided the best chance to beat Netanyahu in the April 9 election was to ally his Yesh Atid Party with the new Resilience Party formed by Benny Gantz. Together they decided to form Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) and agreed to take turns serving as prime minister if they formed a government.
Lapid has published 11 best-selling books, including Memories After My Death about his late father.
In 2013, Lapid was ranked among the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
He is married to journalist Lihi Lapid and has three children, one from his first wife. They live in Tel Aviv.