Bennett aims high after Bayit Yehudi primary win

“We will continue our revolution,” he said in his victory speech. “We have laid the foundation stone on the way to leading the country.”

April 30, 2017 03:24
2 minute read.
Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Listening to the language Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett used following his victory in Thursday’s party leadership primary, you would think he had just defeated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, not Yonatan Branski and Rabbi Yitzhak Zaga.

“We will continue our revolution,” he said in his victory speech. “We have laid the foundation stone on the way to leading the country.”

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In a message he sent to volunteers who worked for his campaign, Bennett said the 80% of the vote he won in the three-man race showed what a party looks like when it is strong, alive and ready to lead the nation.

It is easy to dismiss Bennett’s statements as delusions of grandeur or post-election hyperbole. But his associates confirm he believes every word.

Sources close to Bennett insist the timing of the election was unconnected to the three ongoing criminal investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Rather, they said it was initiated because Labor initiated its leadership primary and Bayit Yehudi was the only party whose members elect its chairman that had not yet set a date for its race.

But it certainly does not hurt Bennett that he got the internal politics in his party out of his way. After all, it was Bennett and his current political adviser, Shalom Shlomo, who recommended that Netanyahu advance his party leadership race to outmaneuver then-rival Silvan Shalom when they were Netanyahu’s advisers in 2005.

Regardless of Bennett’s intentions, he is now ready for the following scenario: Police recommend indicting Netanyahu in the Expensive Gifts Affair. After a few months, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit issues the indictment. Netanyahu’s coalition partners don’t raise a ruckus when the police have their say, but Mandelblit’s move makes them say the prime minister must go. The Likud members choose Israel Katz or Gilad Erdan as the new party leader.

The public prefers Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi over the Likud and gives it more seats, especially after terrorist attacks take place during the election. This continues the trend of traditional ruling parties losing power, as happened in France. President Reuven Rivlin decides only Bennett can form a stable government and gives him the mandate to do so.

It’s still far-fetched, but not unfathomable.

For this to happen, Bennett will need free rein in his party to decide its direction. He needs to be able to open up the party to more nonreligious Zionists, which he said in his victory speech he intends to do. He wants to bring in attractive candidates for reserved slots after the candidates he brought in last election did not fare well.

Bennett will have to make a decision about whether to continue a partnership with the more religious and right-wing Tekuma party led by Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. The parties had agreed to merge following the 2015 election, but Bennett never followed through despite Ariel publicly begging for it to happen.

All of those decisions were harder for Bennett before Thursday’s race because his opponents in Bayit Yehudi institutions were able to tie his hands. After the boost he received from the primary, he should be able to initiate September elections for Bayit Yehudi’s central committee and branch heads and eliminate most of his critics.

Once he succeeds in doing that, Bennett still won’t be ready for a revolution, and he won’t become prime minister tomorrow or the next day. But a foundation stone it is, and Bennett certainly must be taken seriously for the future.

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