Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Has Nothing to Lose

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, earlier this month.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The Haaretz archive doesn’t lie, even if it occasionally surprises: I discovered that I am in favor of Naftali Bennett.

November 2014: “[W]ith [Bennett] Israel will no longer wear its lying, false, pretty face, which has allowed it to continue its policies. That’s why I’m for him.” August 2020: "We need to start thinking about it – Naftali Bennett, the next prime minister of Israel. … That’s bad news, but there’s worse – a chain of events that’s not imaginary: Netanyahu’s Likud party slumps, Bennett’s Yamina rises, the center-left lacks proper leadership and Bennett attracts the longed-for 'Anyone But Bibi' coalition. … Far right would replace moderate right, religious would replace secular, … the end of deception. With Bennett at the helm, Israel would be officially declared a capitalist, colonialist apartheid state.” Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

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It starts Sunday. The former director general of the Yesha Council of settlements from Ra’anana will be sworn in as prime minister. Half the nation feels it is going from darkness to light, the other half feels it’s doing the opposite, and in both cases it’s not because of Bennett. He is still bad news, yet not the worst. But the truth is that, save for an extreme, imaginary, inconceivable scenario, Bennett as prime minister is not news. Deducting for all the reforms to public health and to transportation that will or will not be implemented, in the end the Pretoria of the Middle East chose a prime minister, and he will continue to do as the Pretorians do.

In South Africa, too, it didn’t much matter who was prime minister as long as apartheid continued. Who cared whether John Vorster was more moderate than P.W. Botha, or vice versa – they championed the same regime, which always determined who led it.

It’s the same in Israel. Until the Israel F.W. de Klerk is born – and apparently he has not been born, not even with Bennett’s swearing-in – then the margins for historic change between one prime minister and the next are very slim indeed, nearly invisible, just as they were in South Africa. There, too, they had free elections, albeit not general elections; there, too, they had coalitions, governments that fell and rose, extremists of varying degrees – all within the narrow confines of an evil, criminal regime.

All we can do now is dream. No one had any expectations from de Klerk, either. Imagine Bennett, whose kippa is tiny and who nevertheless is also from Ra’anana and from America, even though he is from the Golan Heights and the Yesha Council; imagine that in his allotted two years as premier, in which he can remain an obscure footnote in the list of Israel’s prime ministers or turn into a world-class revolutionary, he takes the latter choice. Just imagine.

The odds are slim to none. They were the same for all his predecessors, from the left and the right. But the odds of Bennett becoming prime minister were also very poor, and yet he is. The chance of him doing now what an Israeli prime minister will do one day – but only when Israel reaches the edge of the abyss – is imaginary. And yet: Just imagine.

Bennett has nothing to lose: he puts his name either on a forgotten episode, or on history. Either a one-paragraph entry in Wikipedia, a stub article, or books on the history of Israel. Perhaps he is also courageous. Perhaps he knows the truth, deep down, and the truth is that he will be the prime minister of about 14 million people. Five million of them have no rights. They cannot vote for or against him, even though he is their prime minister as well, against their will. In the United States, Bennett must have learned that this can only be called apartheid. And that the prime minister of apartheid is the prime minister of apartheid, and not of Israel or of a democracy. Bennett also knows from history that this situation is reversible. It can be changed in a single stroke, in fact that’s the only way to change it.

It happened when no one expected it to happen. It happened because it cannot go on like this. We are already there, Mr. Prime Minister.

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