An Hour with Naftali Bennett: Is the Right-Wing Newcomer the New Face of Israel?

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image: Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, poses for a portrait at his office in the central Israel city of Petah Tikva, Jan. 10, 2013.
Oded Balilty / AP for TIME

Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, poses for a portrait at his office in the central Israel city of Petah Tikva, Jan. 10, 2013.

Just give you a sense here of, um, [pause, refreshes page] wait a second, here, look, at the pace:  a minute ago this guy wrote this, this one two minutes ago, eight minutes ago. This has become the Hyde Park of Israel; everyone talks here.

I actually learned a lot from President Obama. People don’t get it. It’s not about Facebook or Twitter. It’s about talking straight, and being willing to dive into the most sensitive issues, and talk about them honestly. One of the things I learned from him is his famous race speech in the previous campaign, which I thought was a work of art, to take an issue that has always been taboo and talk about it. So I did this for instance with for example the haredim [the ultra-orthodox, who do not serve in the army and rely heavily on welfare] issue, and I think in a way that no one else attempted.  You know the populist thing is to say, we need a law tomorrow and all of them will join the army, period. But that’s nonsense.  Just on many many issues of religion, of all kinds of issues that have been … [refreshes page again]. …Look here: this is the pace of people joining: new “like” a new “friends” 42 seconds ago. 56 seconds ago. A minute ago, two minutes ago.  About two people a minute join this page and follow it. It’s become really the best tool, and I can bypass media. I don’t need media. If I write a good post it can get easily to 800,000 people, because friends of friends — six degrees of separation, right? The second degree of separation is all of Israel, pretty much. The first degree is 116,000, and each of them on average has 200 friends, there’s overlapping, I get to all of Israeli if each one shares. And that never happens, but it’s amazing. I have no filters. And it’s straight-forward talk. It’s never blah blah.

But this is what Lieberman was doing four years ago.


Not online, but in talking [harshly] about Israeli Arabs, what people were saying in private he said in public, and changed the conversation.

No. …. What I say about Israeli Arabs is I’m very pro-Israeli Arab. I’m on the liberal side vis a vis Israeli Arabs.  And I say that on record. I’m against the hate talk.

(MORE: Why Palestine Won Big at the U.N.)

Let’s take the Arab-Israeli issue as a case study. The last thing I ought to do, as a right winger, is support the Israeli Arabs. Why? I’m not going to get any votes there. My point – Look, I’m not an idiot, I’m not going to volunteer all my positions if they’re incredibly unpopular, but two very unpopular positions, are regarding haredim, that I’m not willing to hate them, even though I would gain a seat or two, and Arabs, which I’m not willing to hate them, even though I would gain a seat or two.

So my point is being honest about my real positions – and those are my real positions—and it’s working, somehow.  Look, it’s all polls, at the end of the day what matters is on the election day. But what else? I guess the three main issues that I’m pushing… The first issue is values, bringing values back to the center, Zionism, Judaism. Second one is prices, and bringing down prices in housing and  products. And the way to do it ultimately is by not giving in to  small interest groups, tycoons and the big unions, and also we’re in a unique position because unlike the other big parties, Likud and Labor, I don’t owe anyone anything. I don’t owe the unions anything, like [Labor party chair] Shelly Yachimovich. I don’t owe the tycoons, like some other politicians. I’m free. I only owe the Israeli public.

The Palestinian issues, interestingly I thought it would be irrelevant. I may have talked to you in the past about how no one cares about it.  But what I did do was put up the movie, a two minute movie, um, I think we have it in English, only subtitles. It’s a two minute movie has been seen on Facebook by 600,000 Israelis, and may be – certainly one of the most viewed political YouTube things, and in Hebrew, in the history of Israel. There have been songs that have been 2 million, but never a political plan. And it’s especially compelling to the young. The idea, I think you’re well aware of my plan, it’s called the Imperfect Solution, or the Imperfect Peace. But the realistic one.

I remember when you gave me the tour…

I’m not sure back then I had my act together. It was evolving back then.

MORE: U.N. Recognition of Palestine: What Does It Mean for the Peace Process?

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