Israel elects: Who is Naftali Bennett?

The millionaire former IDF elite officer is sure to pick up a lot of support in the Israeli election next week - but who is he

by Nathalie Tamam on 19 January 2013 14:36

Israel’s election season has been straight-forward. For all the parties and personalities in the mix, there has not really been any serious challenge to the Likud Beiteinu coalition. For all the lack of excitement, really only one man has stood out. But it’s not been Benjamin Netanyahu but more interestingly, the comparatively unknown Naftali Bennett.

Naftali Bennett is the leader of Israel’s Jewish Home party and the one to watch in Israeli politics over the coming months and years.

With a projected 15 seats in the next Knesset, Jewish Home will become Israel’s third largest party. It has been the only serious challenge to Netanyahu. The party’s popularity accounts somewhat  for the Likud Beiteinu recent poll decline as disenchanted voters consider supporting Bennett.

Bennett’s views on the peace process and the Palestinians have been fairly uncompromising. Earlier this month he came under fire following an interview in which he claimed that he would conscientiously object from removing settlers from their homes.

These comments were decreed by some to be calling for insubordination within the army and sparked intense criticism from all sides of the political divide, including PM Netanyahu himself. Bennett ended up giving a politically typical ‘non-retraction retraction’.

Conversely, more recently on Israel’s Channel 2 he said that any outposts built on private Palestinian land are illegal and should be removed. His Jewish Home Party – an orthodox religious party – has also butted heads with other religious parties which have criticised its more inclusive form of Judaism across a range of issues.

Perhaps it is his surprising contradictions that make him engaging to so many Israeli voters.

Son of an immigrant, Bennett served in an elite IDF unit before he went on to found the software company Cyota which was then sold to US security firm RSA for 145 million dollars. Not bad going.

It is this combination of youth, entrepreneurialism and a particular brand of religious Zionism that so many Israelis admire. On the one hand religious communities trust him and on the other, youthful, modern Israelis respect and appreciate what he stands for.

Essentially Bennett represents the old and new Israel. It’s a winning formula and one that will see Jewish Home do very well next week.

This article is the fourth in a series of blogs on the 2012 Israeli elections. You can find the rest by clicking here

This article is written in a personal capacity. The views expressed are those of the author's alone

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