There are three English-speaking candidates running in the Bayit Yehudi primary, but only one got party leader Naftali Bennett’s blessing on Thursday: Uri Bank.
Bennett called Bank “an ideologue who brings with him great political experience. In the last year-and-a-half he did an excellent job as faction secretary, and I wish him luck, together with the other candidates.”
Bank is a political veteran, running as a candidate for Knesset in every election since 2003. He started in 1994 in the Moledet party, which later became part of the National Union; in 1996 he served as MK Rabbi Benny Elon’s parliamentary aide; and he has continued his political activity since, most recently as the Bayit Yehudi faction secretary.
Bank explained that people in his position of faction secretary are often called an “extra MK,” because they know the inner workings of the Knesset better than many legislators. That gives him an advantage over other potential candidates, Bank explained, because he will know how to be effective from his first day in office, whereas he estimated that it takes a year for most other MKs to learn the ropes.
“Anglos in Israel, the constituency sending me to the Knesset, will know that from day one I can hit the ground running,” he said. “I honed my political senses from being around. I know what to say and what not to say, how to conduct interpersonal relationships and developed a take on life, where even in the jungle of politics I try to be a mensch... Some people try to finagle things, but that’s not my way; I’m a straight shooter.”
Bank said he hopes to represent those Anglos who vote for him, who he says believe strongly in democracy, transparency and accountability. As part of that, he hopes to promote electoral reform so that least half the Knesset will represent districts of Israel, making MKs more accountable to their voters, an idea Bank says comes from his Western background.
“Bayit Yehudi doesn’t have [electoral reform] in its platform, but I am pushing for it,” he said. “If I get a high spot on the list, I will be able to say to Bennett that this is important to our voters.”
Bank, 46, was born in Detroit and grew up in Chicago, before making aliya with his family at age 12. When he was 18, his family moved back to the US, but he stayed in Israel, becoming a tank commander as a lone soldier. He lives with his wife and three children in Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion, where he is a member of its regional council.
Aside from a wealth of political experience, Bank also has unique international ties, having co-founded the Israel Allies Foundation with Elon, his “rabbi and mentor,” in 2008. The organization helps legislators around the world form pro-Israel caucuses in their parliaments and proposes ideas for bills that can help Israel, like recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or limiting funding to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
“Evangelical Christians are powerful in their countries and they love Israel, but they haven’t been taught how to leverage that in our favor,” explained Bank, who serves on the Israel Allies Foundation’s board. “That is what we’re doing.”
Last week, Bank left the National Union, which was taken over by Tekuma, the party that has spots saved on the Bayit Yehudi’s list but whose candidates do not run in the primary. Bank called himself “liberal in my Orthodoxy,” whereas Tekuma “leans toward the ultra-Orthodox world [with] more stringent rabbinic conduct, something I disagree with.”
Bank sees the Bayit Yehudi under Bennett’s leadership as Moledet’s heir, a party that is dedicated to the entire Land of Israel – something it has in common with Tekuma – and Jewish tradition, while being welcoming to those who are less observant.
Bank explained his position by saying he identified with a quote by Bayit Yehudi forebear National Religious Party’s former leader Yosef Burg, who said that as a religious-Zionist party, its job is to be the hyphen – bridging secular Zionism and the religious world.
“When Bennett and [Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet] Shaked came in to play, I identified with them,” he said. “I think they’re doing a wonderful job representing what I believe in on the Land of Israel and being on guard against any kind of capitulation.
They are a strong voice saying all of Israel, all of Judea and Samaria, belongs to us, unapologetically.”
Bank also said he is very proud of the Bayit Yehudi’s campaign slogan “no apologies,” calling it the correct attitude toward the belief that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. He also strongly supports Bennett’s plan to annex Area C, which he calls “something anyone on the Right can agree with.”
Together with Elon, Bank founded and now leads another organization called the Israeli Initiative, an alternative, right-wing peace plan which calls to annex all of Judea and Samaria, while re-affiliating the Palestinians residents living there with Jordan.
Bank emphasized the importance of the Right having its own ideology when it comes to the future of the West Bank.
“I’m proud of Bennett that he understands this,” he said. “We need to not only say no to what the Left brought up all these years, but have our own alternative. That is a big part of what I will represent in the Knesset.”