Naftali Bennett Jokes in TV Interview: I Was in Terrorism Course With Sara Netanyahu

The leader of Habayit Hayehudi qualified his remarks some hours after the TV interview, saying that he was kidding.

He and Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, had participated in “a terrorism course together,” said Naftali Bennett, chairman of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi party during a television interview on Wednesday.

Bennett resigned his position as bureau chief for Benjamin Netanyahu, then the head of the opposition, after quarreling with Sara Netanyahu.

He made his remark Wednesday about his shared history with Sara when asked whether he could work with Netanyahu in a possible coalition, despite their baggage. They could work together, Bennett replied, because he and Netanyahu had served together in the same Israeli army division – the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit.

Asked whether he had also served in the same unit with Sara Netanyahu, he said, “Yes, I was with Sara mainly in a terrorism course.”

After a few seconds' confusion he elaborated, “There is nothing that 15 Knesset seats won’t cure. We should stop dwelling on gossip. Netanyahu and I will work very well together.”

Later, talking with Army Radio host Razi Barkai, Bennett said he'd been kidding. He'd gone over the various training courses in the unit in his mind, he explained, and hit on one that wasn’t secret – the couter-terrorism course. "There are lots of courses. Some we can talk about and some we can’t," he said. “I have not one shred of anger in my heart against Netanyahu or his wife. We’ll be working together in four or five weeks. I hold Netanyahu and his family in the highest esteem.”

Earlier this week Haaretz reported that Bennett told others in private conversation that he would be a responsible and stable partner in government, despite his troubled personal relations with the Netanyahus. He has recently conveyed messages to the prime minister that at least from his perspective there is no bad blood between them, Haaretz reported.

Senior Likud officials said much the same on Monday. Despite Likud’s campaign against Habayit Hayehudi, to stop the voter bleed from Likud to Habayit Hayehudi, Bennett would be a key partner in a Likud government, they said.

“The nationalist parties want Netanyahu as prime minister," said a top Likud source, adding that the Likud is just as pleased about having the prime minister surrounded by the nationalist parties. "Reports that Netanyahu is trying to forge a coalition without Habayit Hayehudi aren't true. Bennett won't need to apologize to his voters for joining the government. It would be a natural move for them."

While the self-proclaimed centrists Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz would join a Netanyahu coalition, they would have to explain themselves to voters, the source added.

Netanyahu could have a problem, said the source, when he has to balance the structure of his government to advance his interests. Netanyahu, personifying the party in power as opposed to sectorial, niche parties, has limited room to maneuver when it comes to fixing relations with the United States or moving ahead with sanctions on Iran because he's also responsible for other Israeli interests, the source said.

It is clear Bennett will be in the next government, another Likud source commented. "The whole recent campaign was designed to sharpen positions during the elections. We don’t see Bennett as an ideological rival.”

Tomer Appelbaum
Gil Yochanan