Bennett Hints He May Back Term Limits for Israeli Prime Minister: 'They Say Power Corrupts'

Education minister was in hot seat for Knesset's first-ever U.K. Parliament-style Question Time, where a cabinet minister responds to Knesset members' questions.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Intelligence and Atomic Energy Ministry Yisrael Katz, May 30, 2016.
Emil Salman

Education Minister Naftali Bennett made Israeli history on Monday when he became the first minister to respond to the local version of the British parliament’s Question Time, during which he said he was leaning toward backing a law limiting the prime minister to two terms in office.

The Israeli version will be held every few weeks, and either the prime minister or another minister will respond to Knesset members’ questions. Respondents won’t receive the questions in advance.

The first questioner was opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who noted that Bennett had spoken to him last year of the need for reconciliation among different segments of society. But since then, he charged, Bennett has verbally assailed the prime minister, the army chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff and the former defense minister; in particular, “You opted to stand before thousands of demonstrators and say the defense minister is extreme and provocative. I ask you, don’t you see a connection between your words and the masses of young people, especially young people from a certain sector of Israeli society, who stand in Rabin Square calling the defense minister a dog and dress the chief of staff in SS uniform” via Photoshop? 

Bennett, undaunted, congratulated Herzog for finally “deciding to start being an opposition” now that his bid to join the government has failed. He then said he condemns racism.

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) asked Bennett why he had backtracked on his threat not to vote in favor of Avigdor Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed a military secretary for the diplomatic-security cabinet who would regularly brief its members on defense issues. Bennett responded that his basic demand had been met: He now gets daily updates, and the head of the National Security Council has set up regular meetings with him.

MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), the driving force behind the new Question Time, asked Bennett whether he would support a bill limiting the prime minister to two terms of office, starting in another two terms. Netanyahu vehemently opposes the idea, but Bennett didn’t rule it out.

“They say power corrupts,” he said. “In truth, you see in the U.S. that a president in his second term is under stress to advance his agenda ... I consider this issue important. I’m leaning in favor, but it’s not fair to bring this in the middle of a term. We haven’t yet formulated a party line." 

“This direction is welcome," Bennett continued. "I’d try to figure out how to limit on one hand, but on the other, to fulfill the full four years,” he added, referring to the fact that the Knesset usually calls early elections well before its four-year term expires. 

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon blasted the new civics textbook during her allotted time. “The map of the state in the civics text gives a false picture to schoolchildren and, in my view, tries to tendentiously influence their worldviews. Pay attention to what the students see when they look at the map. They get the impression – and apparently, not by chance – that the eight largest Palestinian cities beyond the Green Line are in fact Arab cities in Israel,” she said, referring to the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

Bennett retorted, “I don’t think there was ever as much disinformation about a book as there was about this book. When it was published and people finally read it, they understood that it was an excellent, balanced book, contrary to the outcry. And then they look at how darkly the Green Line is drawn.”

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) asked how a government bill to cancel the requirement that ultra-Orthodox schools teach the core curriculum meshed with Bennett’s promises to give ultra-Orthodox students the knowledge they need to enter the job market.

“I’m bringing in the core curriculum, but consensually,” Bennett responded. “When there’s dialogue and you view the ultra-Orthodox as brothers, you reach agreements. This takes time.”

Bennett charged that when Yesh Atid controlled the Education Ministry, it started educational summer camps for children, but discriminated against the ultra-Orthodox by omitting their schools from the program.

“My policy with regard to the ultra-Orthodox is the opposite,” he continued. “First, I’m trying to heal all the rifts caused during the previous term. Anyone who thinks using a 10-kilogram hammer is the right way is mistaken. The prime minister signed a coalition agreement with the ultra-Orthodox parties, and we’ll abide by it.”