Who Is Naftali Bennett, the Man Who Could Break Netanyahu's Coalition?

Haaretz's top columnists weigh in on the economy (and religious services) minister, one of the major threats to the stability of Israel's governing coalition.

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Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett heads a superfluous ministry that has tied up hundreds of millions of shekels over the past 15 years.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett heads a superfluous ministry that has tied up hundreds of millions of shekels over the past 15 years.Credit: Eyal Toueg

Today, he is economy minister, religious services minister and head of one of the most powerful parties in the Knesset. But just two years ago, Naftali Bennett was a newcomer on the political scene, and none of this was a certainty. Within an amazingly short period, however, Bennett, the son of American immigrants, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief when the latter was opposition head, became the leader of Israel’s third most-powerful political party after the 2013 election. As a newcomer, he won 12 seats. Today, with Netanyahu's government in crisis, it looks like the would-be leader of the Israeli right could break the coalition.

Haaretz's top columnists weigh in on Bennett – the man, and the rhetoric:  

Whether or not you voted for Bennett, the former techie (read, man who made $145 million by selling his high-tech company) from an elite Israel Defense Forces commando unit and rightist leader from Ra’anana, says what he means and means what he says. You won’t hear hollow talk from Bennett of a new Middle East that no one has any intention of realizing, you will hear the truth: Apartheid. Now he’s making his way up. The damage he’s causing is increasing, and he’s liable to be the next big thing. He is a rare breed in Israeli politics, says Gideon Levy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the formal head of Israel’s 33rd government. But the real head is Bennett, Haaretz said in an editorial in May. His Habayit Hayehudi party was the only one among the coalition partners that converted its election success into real power. Bennett can look back with satisfaction, but Israelis have cause for deep concern. He is steering the state to further entrenching the occupation, losing the chance for peace and grave international isolation.

Bennett is known better for his right-wing political views, but what about his views on the economy? In an interview with TheMarker earlier this year, the economy minister said that Israel's economy will be better off with the political status quo – and some help from a plan to ease regulations for newly formed businesses.

Can Bennett shake Israel's national-religious old guard into a modern new party? asks Yossi Verter. Like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, he has set himself a goal: becoming prime minister. And he believes that to conquer this peak, he must be freed of the rusty chains and the religious, party-hack image of his rabbis and teachers, and adopt the habits of a modern leader. Someone who is new, strong and innovative, who has broad powers, and who is capable of connecting with large segments of the public rather than only with religious Zionists and settlers, whose electoral wingspan is fairly limited.

Even if you think that scary ideas lurk behind Bennett's baby face, there’s one thing about him that can’t help but make you smile. His parents, writes Allison Kaplan Sommer. On the night he won his party’s leadership in November 2012, his parents glowed and kvelled with pride. Bennett may portray himself as the all-Israeli Orthodox poster boy, but with Mom and Dad around, he can’t escape his American Jewish roots.

And just in case this taster wasn't enough, take a look at Deconstructing Naftali Bennett, a special Haaretz project from our 2013 election archive that looks at the meteoric rise of the politician, the soldier and the high-tech whiz.

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