Will the Real Naftali Bennett Please Stand Up?

The Habayit-Hayehudi leader seemed blessed with a rare political magic touch. That is, until the unfortunate television interview in which he said he would disobey IDF orders if required to evacuate a Jewish settlement.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Naftali Bennett, the young politician with the high-tech look, is to a great extent the Shelly Yacimovich of the right. He took a dying, archaic party that was lacking in hope and vitality, and with a lot of talent and quite a bit of god-given luck, he breathed life into it. According to the public opinion polls, he has also brought it Knesset seats.

Bennett seemed to be blessed with a rare political magic touch. That is, until the unfortunate television interview on Thursday, in which he revealed his true nature. This essence was already familiar to many in the political establishment: Bennett is a man of the extreme right, conservative and dogmatic, who would even consider refusing a military order if asked by a democratic government to evacuate Jews from their homes.

What Bennett said on Thursday was not a slip of the tongue. It was the real Naftali Bennett. Last night, at a hastily convened press conference, he tried to put out the fire, but in the best tradition of his predecessors in the National Religious Party he produced mainly a performance of eye-rolling, squirming and empty slogans.

Instead of simply retracting his words, or alternatively standing behind them if he does indeed believe in them, he did both. He zigzagged without batting an eyelash, and also presumed to represent this as a consistent viewpoint. He both stated that he doesn't apologize for a single word, and explained that he had spoken "from the depth of his heart." He also claimed that he didn't say it; he declared that a soldier must obey the orders of the army in all instances, and also claimed that the prime minister's attack against him in television interviews conceals an intention to evacuate settlements. If he really thinks so, let's see him remaining in the opposition in the 19th Knesset.

The "non-slip of the tongue" tore off the mask of the cool right that Bennett wore. There are two seats from voters who define themselves as "center" and are trying to decide between him and Tzipi Livni or Yair Lapid. That is undoubtedly an embarrassing badge of shame for the Israeli electorate. The Habayit Hayehudi-National Union slate is a religious, sectoral and extremist one, which is composed for the most part of members of the extreme right such as the coarse Orit Struck of Hebron or Eli Ben Dahan, former director of the rabbinical courts, an unparalleled symbol of the outdated religious establishment. This is as low-tech as it can get.

Ayelet Shaked, who is not religious, is the fig leaf that Bennett sends to the television studios in order to deceive the nave ones from Tel Aviv, whose fathers tried to decide about two decades ago whether to vote for Raful Eitan's Tzomet or for the Meretz of Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid.

A month before the election, the main question of course is how much it will cost him. Let's wait and see. The polls will keep us informed. The prevailing assessment in political circles is that the meteoric rise of Bennett and his party was halted over the weekend and that he is even expected to lose a number of seats after his remarks. But another scenario is also possible: That the moral seal of approval for refusing to evacuate Jews from their homes will actually strengthen him among the "orange" right (a term that refers to the 2005 "Orange" movement which opposed Israel's disengagement from Gaza) and increase his power in the sector at the expense of Likud Beitenu and the Otzma Leyisrael slate headed by Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben Ari.

The idea that Bennett expressed in the interview on Channel 2 on Thursday night is extremely popular among the national religious public, which is very disappointed and embittered by Likud governments and Likud prime ministers. Let's see how it reacts to the minor uproar that took place here last weekend.

Naftali Bennett, of the right-wing party Habayit Hayehudi.Credit: Alon Ron

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