Naftali Bennett vs. Naftali Bennett

Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin
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Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett gives a press statement as party colleague Ayelet Shaked looks on, this week.
Yair Assulin
Yair Assulin

Of all the struggles that are playing out during these mad times in the degenerated arena known as Israeli politics, the most interesting struggle, the bloodiest and the most significant, is the struggle between Naftali Bennett and himself: between who he is – the structure of his personality, the character he has built of himself in his head, his image, his arrogance, the empty words he has spoken confidently for years – and the person he could be.

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In order to achieve his personal aspirations – and no one still believes there is anything beyond personal aspirations behind the mountains of words Israeli politicians pour down on us – Naftali Bennett must kill Bennett. Not in the sense of lying to himself, perish the thought, or to deny who he is or his ultranationalism, but in the sense of taking a clear look at reality and recognizing the necessary conclusions that follow from what he himself says and does, and then to act on them – despite what that may say about him, about his posturing, about his image of himself in his mind’s eye.

The character of Bennett is fascinating from a literary perspective. Not because it is particularly complex or multilayered. Just the opposite – Bennett’s character is so riveting, its struggle with itself so powerful, precisely because of its shallowness, its lack of sophistication and its elemental childishness that surfaces anew each time, demonstrating again and again the internal tragedy of Bennett the person: on the one hand, the ability to grasp intellectually important processes as they occur, to analyze them and even formulate courses of action; on the other hand, the absence of the deep courage needed to truly realize these understandings, to follow them through to the end and over time, to give the dough time to rise. Bennett may be good at exits – selling his startups for hundreds of millions of dollars – but can he grow and manage a large and important society for an extended period of time?

That is how it was when he realized, back in the day, that he must move in the direction of a statesmanlike right and of Israeliness. He took that step, but almost immediately after he founded the Yamina party he contaminated it with all the old ills from which he had tried to flee. This is how it is now, when after hastening to savagely trumpet the government’s failures in handling the coronavirus crisis with sharp words, he still won’t dare to say that he will not join a government headed by the person he holds responsible for these failures. Not to mention morality. And it always comes wrapped up, ostensibly, in political reasons, in complexity, in foresight and determination. But in practice, down deep it is clear that this is that other Bennett, the one inside of which Naftali Bennett is trapped, not daring to go free.

This text is not only about Bennett. He, like all of the irrelevant Israeli politicians, is only a living, breathing illustration of one of the greatest challenges facing us today: to look reality in the face and recognize that much of what we thought the world to be, the truth, the right thing, no longer is. The courage to recognize the increasingly widening gap between the conclusions of the experiment – which is the reality of our lives – and our original premise. The ability to recognize this and to act in accordance with conclusions and not the old assumption is a critical test for anyone seeking to participate in shaping the future. In all areas.

Bennett’s distance from achieving his potential depends precisely on this ability, his victory over himself, the courage to leave Egypt and go into the desert. To understand that in order to arrive one must dive in, that the person who never dives in eventually disappears. Particularly in times like ours. It makes no difference whether it’s the Zealots of the Second Temple period, the nobility of the 18th century or the many great civilizations that disappeared precisely because they were trapped within themselves. The fact that reality has repeatedly given Bennett new opportunities is liable to cause him to think this will continue indefinitely. It will not. This week, facing President Reuven Rivlin, he failed once again.

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