Naftali Bennett overwhelmingly won the Habayit Hayehudi leadership race on
Tuesday night, with about 67 percent of the vote.
Bennett, a newcomer to
the party, successfully recruited thousands of new Habayit Hayehudi members and
defeated his rival, veteran MK Zevulun Orlev, who received less than a third of
the vote and unseated party leader Science and Technology Minister Daniel
Herschkowitz, who pulled out of the primary last month.
Nearly 70% of the
party’s 53,875 members voted in the primary.
Orlev is withdrawing from
politics, and will not run for the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset list in next
Mystery candidate Yehuda Cohen, a Jerusalem
schoolteacher who was on the ballot but did not campaign at all, received 79
The victor called a press conference in Tel Aviv at midnight
Tuesday, after most of the votes had been counted, where he announced that he
will make religious Zionism politically relevant again.
“No party brought
such high numbers to its ranks in such a short time,” Bennett said. “Just like
the IAF isn’t only the interest of pilots but of all the people, Jewish
tradition cannot remain the private interest of those wearing a kippa.”
euphoric-sounding Bennett listed in his speech the things he loves: the State of
Israel, the Land of Israel, the Jewish people, the Torah, the IDF, religious
people, secular people.
“The Facebook generation is one that is looking
for a connection. I know it well, even though I don’t have much hair left
on my head,” he joked, referring to his support from young voters.
policy, Bennett referred to settlements and Torah study as two areas he plans to
emphasize and strengthen.
“There are parties that ask where is the money,
but we are asking another question. Where are the values? The answer is
here, in this hall, in every house in the State of Israel, in millions of people
saying, ‘this is a wonderful state we built in 60 years, and we are all proud of
being a part of this nation, and want to make it a better place,’” he
Bennett, 40, lives in Ra’anana with his wife, Gilat, and three
children. He was co-founder and CEO of Cyota, an anti-fraud software company
that was sold for $145 million in 2005. Soon after the company’s sale, Bennett
became chief of staff for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when he was
opposition leader, and then chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in
Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
He also founded the public diplomacy
organization “My Israel” with Ayelet Shaked, who worked with him in Netanyahu’s
office and is running for the Habayit Hayehudi list.
Though Bennett and
Shaked refuse to elaborate on the reasons behind their departure from
Netanyahu’s office, sources close to the prime minister said the former left
“scorched earth” when he departed, and that his tactics harmed
Orlev’s campaign used Netanyahu and Bennett’s soured
relationship to say that it may keep Habayit Hayehudi from joining the
coalition, but Shaked has said that she believes the party is a “natural
partner” for Likud and the prime minister will work for them for pragmatic
“Naftali and I never hurt Netanyahu,” Shaked told The Jerusalem
Post in September.
The Bennett ally and 16 other candidates will run for
Habayit Hayehudi’s Knesset list next Tuesday. The fourth spot is saved for a
woman – with three in the running – and the fifth for one of four candidates