Thinking Aloud: Naftali Bennett, Darling of the Israeli Right

Sept. 2, 2014 by Darius 

According to a new poll released today, the leader of the right wing in Israel is not Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu but rather Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home Party is even further to the right than Netanyahu’s.  Who is Bennett, where did he come from, and what does his party stand for?

Bennett was born to American immigrant parents in Israel in 1972.  Like most Israelis, he served in the military, after which he founded a successful tech company, which he eventually sold for more than $100 million.  He was called up as a reservist in the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and fought in Lebanon.  After the war, he entered politics, somewhat ironically as a staff member for Netanyahu, who was at the time the leader of the opposition in the Knesset.

Soon, though, Bennett found himself in political conflict with Netanyahu.  In 2010, Bennett was a major opponent of Netanyahu’s decision to freeze settlement construction as part of negotiations with the Palestinians.  In 2012, Bennett formally broke with Netanyahu and joined the Jewish Home Party, of which he was quickly elected leader.

The Jewish Home Party’s basic platform opposes the creation of any Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, or Jerusalem under any circumstances.  Further, it supports settlements as vital to Israel’s security and supports Israel’s outright annexation of Area C in the West Bank, where Jewish settlements are concentrated.  Jewish Home also supports maintaining Israel as a Jewish state at all levels of society.

In the 2013 elections, Jewish Home received 11 seats, making it Israel’s fifth-largest party.  The poll that found that Israelis saw Bennett as the leader of the right wing also projected that if elections were held today, Jewish Home would come in second, behind only Netanyahu’s Likud Party.  Bennett’s popularity has soared due to his criticism of Netanyahu’s acceptance of a ceasefire with Hamas.

It is likely that Jewish Home will win more seats in the next Knesset elections and that Bennett will be a very influential player, if not prime minister outright, in the coming years.  The rest of us had better get used to it.

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