The sentence “So fine, let it be Bennett” has been starring in conversations with friends and relatives over the past few weeks. Exhausted from the lockdowns, quarantines and economic anxiety, disappointed over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s loss of control, many Israelis are hanging their hopes on Hayamin Hehadash Chairman Naftali Bennett as the savior from the coronavirus. They are streaming to him in the opinion polls, where he has soared to 22 Knesset seats and is seen as a leading candidate in the race to the premiership.
Bennett is undoubtedly the most impressive Israeli politician who has emerged over the past decade. He is fluent and accessible, and overcomes his weakness as an orator with the charisma of a platoon commander leading his soldiers into battle. Most importantly, he’s not Netanyahu. Instead of the prime minister’s miserliness and glory-hounding, which has led him to indictment, Bennett is seen as go-getter without affectations who pays his way and doesn’t eat for free.
The relationship between the prime minister and the claimant to the throne is worthy of a drama series or a Russian novel. Bennett named his eldest son Yoni, after the prime minister’s brother Yoni, who was killed in the raid on Entebbe. Netanyahu didn’t name his own sons after his brother, unlike the custom in many bereaved families. Where is Freud to explain this?
They both get their inspiration from the right wing in the United States and in Israel, the Bible and Ayn Rand, and believe that the strong are right. But as a kippa-wearer and an entrepreneur who made a profitable exit, Bennett beats his rival hands down. Netanyahu might know how to quote the Bible and Ayn Rand, but Bennett fulfills them with his actions and his way of life.
Fueled by his achievements in opinion polls and by Netanyahu’s failure to contain the coronavirus, Bennett went to mark territory on the prime minister’s grass on Rosh Hashanah eve and was interviewed by Jacob Bardugo of Israel Hayom. “You’re an iPhone 12 to Netanyahu’s iPhone 11,” Bardugo said, and Bennett struck back: “Maybe an iPhone 12 as opposed to a Nokia. I’m the future and Bibi is the past, a man with many credits who has gotten tired and doesn’t know how to manage. Yallah, bye.”
Bennett isn’t offering the public just a specialty in managing crises but also a strict right-wing ideology. First of all, racism: “I’m not going to establish a government based on Arab votes or Arab abstention, ever.” Bennett doesn’t even cloak himself in the whitewashed wording of a dispute with the largely Arab Joint List, like other politicians. With him it’s simpler: If you’re Arab, your vote doesn’t count.
Let’s move on to the diplomatic process. Netanyahu brought peace with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, while Bennett regrets the postponement of annexation in the West Bank. “If you ask me: sovereignty in the Land of Israel or Bahrain? – then sovereignty in the land of Israel,” he says.
On to the High Court of Justice: Bennett wants to restrain it by “changing the method of appointing judges, abolishing reasonableness [as a standard for judgements] and restricting the right of standing.” He wants a court that deals with small things – with a citizen hurt by an official – not one that teaches the government the rules.
And for dessert, Bennett proposes that Israel adopt the “French law” that would prohibit putting a prime minister on trial, together with a limit on terms of office. Why does Bennett need this? After all, in contrast to Netanyahu, he has a valid credit card. Apparently this is candy to tempt died-in-the-wool Netanyahu supporters to leave him, say friends and family.
The right-wing positions are irrelevant. This is not the issue now, but rather the coronavirus, and if Bennett is elected prime minister, he will discover, like his predecessors, that things look different when you’re in the driver’s seat and he’ll put his ideology in quarantine. Still, don’t be tempted. Whoever wants an egalitarian Israel, which seeks peace inside and out and protects human rights with a strong court, should be worried about Naftali Bennett’s leap to the top. He should be taken seriously.