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A Year in Power Wasn't Enough for Bennett to Escape Netanyahu's Shadow

From the moment the government was established, Netanyahu instructed his troops to do nothing but topple it, a year later we can say it all worked out for him – again

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem in 2021.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem in 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

In recent weeks, this was the advice quite a few confidants gave him. “Quit,” Naftali Bennett was told, by people who consider themselves his well-wishers. “Every now and then say something unifying and statesmanlike, and come back big a few months later,” they added. The resignation may help Bennett cut his losses and save him an embarrassing showing at the polls. But as for the future, even if it’s too soon for prophesies, it is likely that the memory of this dissolution – more like a crash or collapse, which happened in a relatively short, eventful period of time – will stick to him forever, like an indelible stain.

“I am constantly amazed at how green this pair are, and at the foolish things they do,” a Likud veteran once told me, referring to Bennett and his partner Ayelet Shaked. The truth is that as prime minister, Naftali Bennett got over his frantic frenzy, acting with courage and good judgment, freeing Israel from the COVID lockdowns, managing to overcome a terror wave, and running – until overcome by political sludge – a normal, functioning government compared to what we’ve grown used to in recent years. This, while having to deal every hour of every day with one of the most vicious incitement machines in the world.

Bennett’s main problem wasn’t the paucity of Knesset seats held by his moonstruck party, and not even the ugly disloyalty of some of its members toward the leader who chose them. The problem was that Bennett himself didn’t believe he is worthy of being prime minister. The fact that Bennett didn’t move in to the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street is the kind of parable that embarrasses the user with its simplistic literalness.

Bennett didn’t believe himself worthy of being prime minister because, at the end of the day, despite crossing the Rubicon around a year ago, he failed to escape the suffocating shadow of the father, Benjamin Netanyahu. From the moment he took office, Bennett tried to mollify the Bibi-ist camp and win it over with words of respect and unity. This, while from precisely the same moment, there was a man devoid of conscience or restraint who rose up against him with a cleaver in hand. You can’t judge Bennett, he was facing a vast and ruthless force – but the great test of they who seek to be leader is precisely in standing up to such forces.

Mansour Abbas, for example, walks this earth with bad actors on all sides seeking his head. He jokes about it, and keeps on moving forward with unfathomable confidence. Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Lieberman are no less right-wing than Bennett but they, unlike him, have crossed the Oedipal barrier, overcoming the fear of the father who sought to castrate them. Bennett – like Kendall Roy, the tragic son in the classic series “Succession” – tried, which is more that Likud’s leadership can do, but failed. This relative softness may be a credit to Bennett as a person, but against the toughest bully on the block, it was a non-starter.

The Yamina slate, now headed by Ayelet Shaked, is a logical candidate to join Netanyahu’s coalition following the elections, even if it’s still unclear what its electoral power and who its constituency will be. Those who want Netanyahu have clearer options, such as Likud itself, or the Religious Zionism party headed by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

This is one of those moments when you have to concede that the side that played dirty won. From the moment the government was established, Netanyahu instructed his troops to do nothing but topple it, in the precise spirit of Miri Regev’s comments leaked to the media. (“We’ve decided that we are a fighting opposition and we want to topple this government, so there is no bellyaching. No bellyaching about rape cases, no bellyaching about battered women and no bellyaching about soldiers. Everybody understands that this is the rationale.”) A year later, nearly to the day, we can say: It all worked out for him. Again.

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