Naftali Bennett, Don’t Be Tempted to Prove That You’re Right-wing

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Naftali Bennett last week in Jerusalem.

Shalom Naftali,

In a few days from now I’ll likely switch from this friendly form of address to something more formal, as befits a statesmanlike person like me. With your permission, I will take advantage of the time remaining to give you some friendly advice.

Have you ever heard of Gittel, who stands on the roof of the Zupnik building in Mea She’arim and shouts very loudly? They say that she is responsible for all the halachic stringencies. The Zionist rabbis are afraid of being lenient, for fear of the reaction of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis. They in turn are stringent in order not to anger the rabbis of the Eda Haredit, who in turn are afraid of a tongue-lashing from the head rabbi of the Eda. And the head rabbi himself? He trembles at the thought that Gittel will shout from the rooftop: “Beware of me. Have you become Reform?”

Naftali, for too many years the so-called Israeli right has aligned itself with the shouts of the extremists. Sometimes they are the ones who claim that if we agree, for lack of choice, to move the outpost of Migron or Amona to an adjacent hill in the Land of Israel, that would be the end of the entire settlement movement. Sometimes they’re the teenagers living in the hut that was built and demolished dozens of times already in the outpost of Esther, and sometimes they’re the friends of the convicted murderers of members of the Palestinian Dawabshe family in Duma.

Shake them off, Naftali. You’re not like that. Rabbi Zusha used to say: “If they ask me in heaven why weren’t you a tzaddik (righteous man) like your brother, I’ll know what to answer. But if they ask me why I wasn’t Zusha – then what will I say?” Be Naftali Bennett. No less than that, but no more either.

The pundits say that you took a huge political gamble. That’s probably true. However, you may recall that I told you more than once that it’s impossible to jump over an abyss in two steps. They say that you remain without a “base.” Your former supporters have abandoned you, and the other political side will never accept you. The best political strategy you now have is simply to excel in the role of prime minister. Please note: The idea is not to look like a successful prime minister, but to really and truly be one.

And here I’m getting to my practical advice: The temptation to show the supporters who abandoned you that they were wrong, that this government is just as right-wing as its predecessor, is significant. Accept the fact that that’s not the case: This government was formed – or had to come into existence – for other reasons. If you take advantage of your status as prime minister in order to mold a right-wing government, you will frequently have to frustrate and embarrass your coalition partners. That’s not the way to succeed at the job. Yes, prevent the designated minister for regional development, Esawi Freige, from beginning his tenure by pleading with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, as he has declared he will do. Don’t allow him to embarrass you. But don’t clash publicly with U.S. President Joe Biden either, just to prove that you’re right-wing.

Naftali, my friend, often in our discussions we diverged from the everyday matters and sailed to the realms of the history of our people and its unknown future. The prime minister of Israel bears crucial responsibility for the future of the Jewish people: It’s that simple, and that frightening. Enter your new office every day with fear and trembling, without extraneous considerations, without arrogance, with a profound sense of mission.

Don’t worry about tomorrow’s headlines, neither those of Haaretz nor those of Makor Rishon. Your only fear should be what will be written about your times in the book of Jewish history to be published 50 years from now. In the words of tweeter Zvi Ashkenazi: Your success is our success.

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