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.

So Bibi’s E-1 announcement and all the rest is just a sectoral response to your campaign?

You have to ask him.

That’s how it looks. It looks like a flanking move. He sees vulnerability on the right.

You know, these elections – this is important – these elections are not about who’s going to be the next prime minister. It’s going to be Netanyahu—I think it’s the first time in Israel’s history that everyone knows who’s going to be the next prime minister. It’s going to be Netanyahu. The single biggest question of this election is who’s going to be the strong man next to him. Is it going to be us, or is it going to be Livni and Yair Lapid? And because of  Netanyahu’s nature, it’s going to be very important, this question. Who’s going to be next to him? Imagine him a as a bus driver, holding the steering wheel, who’s going to put his arm and move the wheel to his direction? And that’s what it’s  about.

How religious are you?

I’m religious. My wife is from a secular home. The accurate numbers are 43 percent of Bennett voters are non-religious; meaning 57 percent are religious but this is unheard of in our party. That’s almost half. This is amazing.

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Do you draw from the ultra-orthodox?

I do. A bit. I’d say one seat. This is a whole different interesting story, but the younger generation: where you’re sitting right now I’ve had many groups of haredim come and the younger generation is fed up and pissed off of how they were maneuvered into the situation  where they don’t know English, they barely know math, they’re 23 years old, they don’t want to be stuck in a closed confine, and they see us –but we don’t hate them; and they’re afraid of the hate – they see us as welcoming them, and as a bridge.  And I think if we had more time, I think this might be a trend, we might get two or even three seats. Primarily from Shas [the largest ultra-Orthodox party].  Because they don’t want to be poor!  And they were sitting here. They said, ‘You know the rabbi said we’re not allowed to have smart phones. Religious law!’  And they all showed me their smart phones, and said like 50 percent of haredi have smart phones, which means I’m talking to them.   Let me show you something amazing. You know what a pashkevil is?

A pashkevil is this: One of those things that haredim put on the wall, it’s always loud, it’s always with exclamation marks, this one says, Naftali Bennett, a danger to the haredim.   They’re all around Brnei Brak [a large ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv] and all that. What I wrote here is a post, and look how many, 59,000 people saw this post. And what I wrote here is the following:

‘My haredi brothers, you’re wanted.’ Wanted in the positive. We want you. ‘This bill was distributed last Friday shows a very small minority that’s worried. But the majority of the younger haredi generation wants to join. I’m talking to you of tens of thousands of young haredim. The people of Israel want you go join us. We want you as brothers we want you together, as part and parcel of the society’. And then I …talk about what I think is the solution for integrating them into the Israeli mainstream …and I see lots of haredi saw this and responded. So I guess one more salient point in this campaign is taking down barriers between Jews and Arabs, between Arabs and Jews, between haredim and secular, and roaming the country, I actually think that is probably the most interesting aspect of this campaign.  Tomorrow I’m going up to the north to Druze villages. And we have massive support up in these villages. And here, just a few days ago I wrote them. These posts are big part of the campaign.

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