Tech Magnate, Politician, Zionist: Israel’s New PM Naftali Bennett
Bennett has been quite vocal about his ultra-nationalist, pro-settler stance in relation to Israel’s governance.
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
In a landmark victory, ultra-nationalist Israeli politician Naftali Bennett ousted long-running Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to become Israel's new PM on Sunday, 13 June. The parliament of Israel, the Knesset, pronounced its vote of confidence in the incoming government, which attained majority by a single vote.
Bringing the era of Netanyahu's dominance to an end, the right-wing leader will lead a newly instituted eight-party coalition to form the government, along with centrist Yair Lapid.
The two will take turns as the prime minister, with Bennett taking the first period of two years, and Lapid succeeding him in 2023.
While the change in leadership certainly marks a new chapter in Israel's politics, Palestinians have expressed indifference at the political succession, forecasting that Bennett would pursue the same right-wing agenda as Netanyahu.
Who is Naftali Bennett?
Bennett was born in 1972 in Israel's Haifa city to American parents, who had immigrated to Israel in 1967. Bennett's parents arrived in the country in the aftermath of Israel's victory in the Six Day War with its Arab neighbours in their pursuit of the dream of a Jewish nation in Israel.
At the age of 18, Bennett joined the Israel military wherein he served for the next six years, and attained the rank of a major.
In 1996, he pursued his bachelor's degree in law and business administration at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Around the same time, Bennett kicked off his career in technology.
He founded the payment security provider corporation Cyota in 1999, which was subsequently bought by RSA Security Inc for $145 million – raising Bennett to affluence.
In 2009, he became the commander of a software start-up, Soluto, which was later acquired by US-based Asurion for $130 million.
Bennett's Political Career And His Connection With Netanyahu
Bennett has described the Second Lebanon War, which broke out the day after he retired as the CEO of his tech firm, as the turning point of his career. Israel's failure in the combat stimulated Bennett's inclination towards politics, and he entered into the then-Opposition leader Netanyahu's Likud party.
He served as the Chief of Staff of Likud from 2006 to 2008. During this period, he devised educational reforms for the political party, and also ran the party's primary campaign in 2007.
In 2010, Bennett was appointed as the head of the Yesha Council, which looks over the Jewish settlements in West Bank, a region that the community had occupied post the Six Day War.
In addition to leading the pro-settler council, Bennett launched the 'My Israel' movement along with politician Ayelet Shaked the same year.
Bennett, along with Shaked, resigned from Netanyahu’s Likud in 2012 and joined the Jewish Home Party.
Under Bennett's leadership, the Jewish Home Party became part of the Israel government in an alliance with Likud and others.
Bennett also served as the Minister of Economy and Minister of Religious Services in the Netanyahu-led government from 2013-2015, and then as the Minister of Education from 2015-2019.
The New Right
Moving away from the purely religious Jewish Home, Bennett founded The New Right party in December 2018, which posited itself as open to both secular and religious people.
The New Right later formed an alliance party, 'Yamina', with The Jewish Home and Religious Zionist Party for the purpose of contesting elections. The New Right now remains the only constituent of Yamina after the exit of the other two parties.
The party's main principles include an objection to the formation of a Palestinian State, securing Israel as the land of the Jewish people, belief in economic liberalism, and opposition to judicial activism.
The party aims to increase the relations between religious and secular Jews, and bring them together in the Zionist agitation for an independent Jewish nation of Israel.
Bennett assumed the position of the defence minister in a Netanyahu-led coalition government in 2019 and remained in the post till 2020.
As defence minister, he promoted the Jewish settlements in the West Bank region, signed an order to expel left-wingers and ‘anarchists’ from the region, as per a The Jerusalem Post report, and enacted several strong measures against Hamas.
‘I’m More Right Wing Than Netanyahu’: Bennet’s Political Stance
Bennett has been quite vocal about his ultra-nationalist, pro-settler stance in relation to Israel's governance.
“I’m more rightwing than Bibi (Netanyahu), but I don’t use hate or polarisation as a tool to promote myself politically,” he told Times of Israel in February.
Bennet's anti-Palestine statements have courted controversy on multiple occasions. The hardliner has in the past endorsed death penalty for Palestinian militants. In 2013, he said that Palestinian "terrorists should be killed, not released."
Bennett has long advocated the religious and historical right of the Jewish people to the disputed West Bank region; a political motivation that can be traced back to his days of the settler-representative Yesha Council.
He refuses to use the term 'occupation' for the settlements, arguing that the land belongs to the Jewish citizens – "there was never a Palestinian State here."
He had also called for the annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank by Israel in 2014. “What can the Palestinians hope for? Already they have the best life in the entire Arab world — they’re not being hanged because they are gay, women are allowed to drive,” he had said then, as per a Times of Israel report.
During the war that broke out between Israel and Palestine last month, the recently elected prime minister issued several statements defending the country's demonstrations of violence, which had received widespread international censure.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has termed the staunch right-winger politician's alliance with the left, centre, and Arab parties in the new coalition as "the greatest election fraud" in the history of democracy.
The coalition of the otherwise divergent parties was agreed upon to achieve a singular common purpose – the ousting of the longest-running prime minister from the post.
(With inputs from The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post)
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