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.

What’s real now about where the society is? The external frame for this area is always the Palestinian issue, two states and the state of talks.

The more I think about it, on the Palestinian issue, the fact that 600,000 people saw [the video], the more I think about it, it’s not that that’s what is convincing them to come. It’s more the fact that we’re willing to address issues flatly in a very practical way, and the same on the haredim, and the same on cost of prices. Where we don’t talk platitudes, we talk down-to-earth solutions. My point is it’s not about the Palestinian state, because really,  I’ve done more than 500 parlor meetings and conferences and what I keep on seeing is, I have a very good polling method, which is just to hear what they are interested in.  I would say about 80 percent is domestic and 15 to 20 percent is the Palestinian issue, so it’s not the main issue. But what it does is it manifests our way of addressing problems. So I would actually validate the thesis that this election’s not about the Palestinian issue. Everyone’s exhausted and fed up with it. The younger folks, because they’re young, they’re still willing to talk about it.  They’ve not spent the past 30 years discussing this unsolvable thing. But anyone who’s 35 and older, screw it, just tell me how I can finish the month without debt, and how I can buy a house one day.  Housing prices went up 40 percent in Netanyahu’s term. This is fact. Four-zero percent. You don’t have to fact-check it. I vouch for it. It’ s the Central Bureau of Statistics. It’s ridiculous. And since the big protest, which was about housing initially, the amount of new houses being built dropped 20 percent. It’s amazing. And it’s because of paralysis. It’s because of not enough boldness of the government, because it’s not easy to solve it but you have to solve it.

You say the first nine on your list are veterans of combat units.

That’s a value issue. It’s not a right-wing issue. At all.

On the tour of the West Bank you gave me, 90 percent of your explaining why Israel had to stay there was security reasons.

It’s twofold. I’m telling you. A, it’s ours, it’s always been ours for 3,800 years we have Jewish sovereignty over Judea and Samaria since we first got it, 3800 years ago.  But also security. I think another thing folks like is the hi-tech. [He produces a booklet.] You don’t read Hebrew, but it’s called Exit, and it says, insights, mistakes and lessons learned of an Israeli start-up CEO. It’s very popular. I distribute it free over the internet and I’ve had about 60,000 downloads to date.

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You’re a man of modern Israel.

I spent most of my career in hi tech, not in politics. You remember I founded my company and all that. It still is my passion. After we solve all the problems in Israel, I’ll…

How do we know you’re human? I have a friend who says the [elite commando unit] Sayerat Matkal guys are part cyborg. He who covers you guys.  He says, honestly, ‘We had guy in our unit, there was empathy missing or something’.

[laughing] No. I’m bald, and I’m fat. And I’m human.  You can put that on record. I’m okay with that. No, it’s funny, it’s peculiar, the number of Sayeret Matkal guys in politics. It’s almost unheard of in any country, from any group.

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