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.

It’s a leadership academy, obviously, on some level.

Though it’s not. Most are…

Is it because it’s there’s an action-orientation?

It is very action-orientation. Very detailed orientation. Very detailed. You dive into details, which I believe generally in life helps succeed. I guess on the downside it’s not a very strategic way of thinking. This is just an insight. You have a mission. It’s mission-based thinking, so you have to adapt your mind to think strategically.  And the buck stops here way of thinking. In Sayeret Matkal, every soldier can potentially find himself in a situation where the destiny, his specific actions can have profound – I don’t want to go into it…

Sure, for the state.

For the state. Rather than a general or a brigade commander of a different unit. It’s a very self-reliant environment. And you know, it’s tough. It’s endurance. What I’m going through now is endurance. But anyone who goes through a political campaign has to persevere, has to be strong.

(COVER STORY: Jerusalem’s Real Divide)

In the next three weeks, how does it generally unfold. In Israel. Are you guys peaking too early? Is that a danger?

First of all, to some extent, yes. We’ve peaked early. And it is a danger. What happens when you peak early, is you become everyone’s target. I sort of came out of nowhere. People didn’t know who I am, so there’s a discovery phase which is unique to this campaign. Everyone knows who Tzipi Livni is. Everyone knows who Bibi is. Everyone knows who Shelly Yachimovich is. So obviously lots of people are digging and looking and all that.  So I assume we’re going to take some hits, it’s the nature of it. But we’re just going to continue. We started with one message the whole time, from eight months ago. The strategy from the primaries is the exact same strategy. We didn’t change our tack. In fact the slogan, ‘Something New is Happening,’ it’s the same slogan in the primaries and the general election. We didn’t even change that. Something new is happening. The key message is values. The key target audience is young and we’re just going to continue.  And yeah, we did peak early and I’m pretty worried about that.

Tell me the values, just because I don’t want to assume.

The values means the following: basically two main things. We want to restore Israel’s Jewish and Zionist identity. And B, we want to go into the Knesset as the messengers of all Israelis, whether they’re haredi, whether they’re religious, nonreligious, whether they’re Arabs or Druze. When I wake up as a potential servant of this country, I’m going to think every day about everyone. I’m not going to help a specific sector. And people believe us, because I mean it. I profoundly mean it.  When I think about Judea and Samaria, I don’t for a moment think I’m representing them as a sector. They’re not a sector. I live in Ra’anana [an upper-middle class city north of Tel Aviv, in Israel proper]. I need Judea and Samaria and people in Tel Aviv need Judea and Samaria.  And people are fed up with special interests and sectorial way of thinking. This is I think what resonates. And the straight talk. Just say what you mean.  What we don’t do is daily polls and we don’t have foreign strategic consultants that work in America and send messages. We just say what we believe.  We work professionally. We have all the various areas. We’re not suckers. But I think polls need to be used to emphasize things you believe in. But you don’t do a poll to decide what you believe in.  And I think some other politicians tend to build their policy based on public opinion. I have my policy. I have my set of beliefs and I’ll use strategy to focus or de-emphasize certain issues, but I believe in what I believe. I mean, supposedly at the beginning of this campaign the Palestinian state issue was  nonstarter, but I just think it’s national suicide.

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