One of the most intriguing personalities to recently throw his name into the political ring is 40-year-old Naftali Bennett. A literal success story in various fields, his impressive resume includes being company commander of an elite army unit, the co-founder and CEO of a successful high-tech company, the Chief of Staff for Benjamin Netanyahu while he was the opposition leader, the head of the Yesha Council, the co-founder of the MyIsrael national movement, and the founder of the Yisraelim movement. In addition, for the last six months he has been promoting a plan for Israel to start increasing sovereignty over Judea and Samaria by formally annexing “Area C”. No wonder his announcement to officially enter politics has caught the interest of many observers in Israel.
In order to clarify some of his intentions I recently conducted the following brief phone interview with Naftali.
Yoel Meltzer (YM): Following months of political speculation, rumors and short-lived announcements, you finally decided to run for the head of The Jewish Home party (HaBayit HaYehudi, formerly Mafdal) in the party’s upcoming internal primaries. With all the options open before you, why did you choose this one? After all, wouldn’t it have been easier to simply join the Likud?
Naftali Bennett (NB): The national camp is effectively gone. The Likud used to be the national camp and many from the religious Zionist community, myself included, worked very hard to turn Netanyahu into Prime Minister. However, once he was elected everything changed: Ehud Barak became Defense Minister in charge of Judea and Samaria and then there was the building freeze for 350,000 Israelis. The fundamental problem is that when it matters most, no one pays any attention to us and unfortunately this isn’t going to change.
Moreover, the reason that the big national religious move within the Likud has failed is because fundamentally it’s an attempt to take over a party with an existing DNA in order to instill within it a totally different DNA. This simply won’t succeed.
Therefore what we need to do is to create one big national camp, with a core from The Jewish Home, together with partners who are traditional and secular in order to build the national camp back up again. That’s our only option. Right now all we have is three seats in the Knesset and that’s why there is not one religious Zionist MK in any decision-making forum or in any key position; not Defense Minister, not Foreign Minister, not Finance Minister and not Prime Minister. We don’t even have any member in the shminiya (the inner “kitchen cabinet” of the government). It’s like we’re nothing. We’re not taken into consideration and the only way for this to change is to become a very strong power. I’m talking about 15 seats in the Knesset which will enable us to lead and not only be the gabbai on the sidelines.
YM: Assuming for a moment you become the new chairman of The Jewish Home party, in what direction would you like to lead the party?
NB: The key direction is to look outward and to stop being sectorial. This means not only taking care of who will be a member of the religious council in Hadera but to start dealing with the big issues in Israel such as the large socio-economic gaps in Israel or the very titled character of the Supreme Court or the situation in the Negev and Galilee where we’re losing our national lands. We also need to work on instilling a good strong Jewish-Zionist identity in all of the children in Israel and not only in the religious ones. In other words we need to stop looking inward and start focusing on all of Am Yisrael.
A leader doesn’t only take care of his own needs; he takes care of the entire nation. So if we want to be leaders we have to have a bold vision of being a leadership party that will take care of all of Am Yisrael.
YM: Although that sounds great, in the eyes of many The Jewish Home is considered a dying party that historically has been overly concerned with the needs of one sector of the population. This being the case, do you really believe you have the ability to not only resuscitate the party but to transform it into something that it’s never been before?