Beit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett on Thursday night proved that he has what it takes to win big in national elections. In a statement regarding the evacuation of settlements in a future peace deal with the Palestinians, Bennet gave an answer that evoked a huge storm of protests and rebukes from—predictably—the left and—most revealingly—from Likud as well.
Bennett told a Channel 2 interviewer: “Should I receive an order to evacuate a Jew from his home and chase him away, my conscience will not permit it. I would ask my commanding officer to absolve me.”
When asked directly if this meant he would refuse an order from his military commander, Bennett said: “I’m sorry, I am incapable of entering a Jewish home and evacuating it.” Bennett also remarked that he “also wouldn’t want to evict an Arab from his home.”
Bennett then called on Israelis to vote for his party in order to influence the future government. He also denied claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would try to remove him from the coalition, because of their past disagreements. Bennett at one point served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff.
As was to be expected, the Labor party attacked Bennett’s statement. “This is an unfortunate and unacceptable statement even during the elections,” MK Eitan Cabel, head of the response team at Labor, told reporters. “Regardless of politics, on the left and on the right, refusing an order is crossing a red line that affects our ability to function as a society, and a statement by a public leader encouraging it is serious and totally illegitimate.”
The Kadima party, whose leaders Sharon, Olmert and Mofaz led the evacuation of some 10 thousand Gush Katif Jews in 2005, also condemned Bennett’s statement.
Just the condemnations from the left could suffice for an extra seat or so for the Beit Yehudi party, as its voters, many of whom live on the wrong side of the green line, which also cuts through Jerusalem, have been yearning for a legitimate leader who would say precisely these things – that an order to remove Jews from their homes has a black flag flying over it.
(Back in 1957, future Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Levi condemned the accused in the Kaffar Kassem massacre for obeying an illegal order which a black flag should have been waving over it, like a sign that declares: “Verbotten.”)
But the real bonus to Bennett and his party came last night and this morning from the Likud party, which has been hemorrhaging votes in the polls to the Beit Yehudi list.
Head of the Likud hasbara team, Minister Gilad Arden, told Walla! News that Bennett’s statement “Caused serious damage to the army, because the army is based on obeying orders.” Arden added: “As someone who is opposed to uprooting settlements, I think this position is also very harmful to right wing camp, because if you can justify conscientious objection in this case, what would stop Zehava Gal-On and leftist groups like The Courage to Refuse from encouraging soldiers not to serve in Judea and Samaria?”
Well, for one thing they’re already doing it – they hardly need an approval from Naftali Bennet. But, most importantly, Arden has stated for the record that—despite his stated opposition to dismantling settlements—he would support it once the order came down via the IDF chain of command.
If you’re a Likud voter living in Karnei Shomron – this should be reason enough for you to switch to Bennett.
Strategic Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, also attacked Bennett, adding his gravitas as former IDF chief of staff to the condemnation.
Except that Ya’alon himself did not receive an extension of his term as chief of staff right before the Gush Katif deportation, because his bosses in the Defense Ministry didn’t trust him to prosecute the evacuation with the necessary zeal.
Exposing Likud as being, essentially, just like Labor and Kadima regarding the dismantling of Jewish towns and villages, Naftali Bennett may have bitten another two or three seats off his rivals’ take. If he manages to weather this storm without apologizing – now would be a good time to take a page from the Liberman play book – Bennett could be the first National Religious leader to actually receive the bulk of the votes cast by National Religious Israelis.