At the height of election season, Channel 2 journalist Nissim Mishal made a
televised bet with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett that Mishal was sure he
Mishal insisted that Bennett would not be in the next
government, because there was too much scorched earth between him and Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Bennett bet Mishal a felafel – even though
Mishal raised an eyebrow at a hitech millionaire eating street food – that his
party would be in the coalition.
Someone get Bennett a
Maybe Mishal should throw in a shwarma for good measure, because
not only is Bennett in the government, he is its architect and the big winner of
Throughout the election campaign, Bennett, who called
himself everyone’s “brother,” said he wanted to be an extra hand on the steering
wheel of Netanyahu’s government and would recommend the prime minister to
President Shimon Peres. Bayit Yehudi even put Netanyahu’s face on some of its
billboards, making it clear that its eyes were on the coalition.
Bennett left his job as Netanyahu’s chief of staff on bad terms, and the Likud
put out many attack ads – some anonymous, some not – against Bayit
Plus, as Bayit Yehudi faction administrator Uri Bank, who has
been involved in settler political parties for the past decade, pointed out
recently, Netanyahu often likes to leave parties to his Right out of his
This way, Bank explained, Netanyahu can tell the world, “My
government isn’t extreme; those guys aren’t my partners.”
After the election, it took Netanyahu two weeks to call Bennett and invite him
to talks. The prime minister even called Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On and Arab
party leaders – totally improbable coalition partners – before deigning to speak
to his former chief of staff.
But Bennett played his cards right, forming
an alliance with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that meant the two would coordinate
demands in negotiations and only join the government together. The two held a
series of meetings at each other’s homes, ordering take-out – the party leaders
like tacos – and working on the coalition.
The bond remained unbreakable
through thick, thin and endless political spin in the 40 days of coalition
talks, allowing Bayit Yehudi to get its hands in almost every influential area
of the government.
Bennett could justifiably be considered the architect
of the new government, conceiving the final compromise that led to a
breakthrough Wednesday night: Yesh Atid gets Education, Likud gets Interior,
Hatnua’s deal remains as is.
The Bayit Yehudi leader drove to his
“brother” Lapid’s Tel Aviv home in jeans and a T-shirt, convincing him to accept
“Even if it brings a new election, I made a commitment, and I
won’t back out,” he promised Lapid, but also pointed out that dragging out talks
doesn’t help anyone.
Lapid agreed, Bennett called Netanyahu and Yisrael
Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, and the rest is history.
A coalition is
on the way and Bennett’s party is en route to having a major influence on
First, we have the economy. Though Bennett did not receive the
Finance Ministry he so coveted, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry is the
key place to pass a law to lower market concentration, which he touted
throughout the campaign. He even changed the name of his portfolio to the
Economic and Trade Ministry in order to get credit for reforms he is sure he
will bring. On top of that, Bayit Yehudi has the uber-influential Knesset
Finance Committee, which has the political cache and power of a
Second, we have settlement construction.
MK Uri Ariel
will be the housing and construction minister, which means not only can he
implement the party’s policy to lower housing prices, he can work toward
building thousands of new homes over the Green Line.
religion. MK Eliahu Ben- Dahan is going to be deputy religious services minister
with no minister above him (Bennett holds the portfolio, but plans to give
Ben-Dahan free rein).
In other words, he’s the minister, with a lower
salary and less staff. However, he has more responsibilities now, as conversion
issues, yeshivot, burial societies and the Chief Rabbinate will all be under his
authority. He’ll be able to overthrow the haredi monopoly in all those
If that’s not enough to make the haredi parties angry, Bayit
Yehudi will also lead a committee to draft a bill requiring the ultra-Orthodox
to enlist or do civilian service.
Of course the haredi press is cursing
Bennett now, but they forget that he first offered Shas an alliance like the one
he has with Lapid, and was rejected.
Plus, Bayit Yehudi sided with Likud
Beytenu in working to make the agreement on equality for the burden in national
service less drastic, and more “liveable” for the haredim. “You’re my brothers,”
he said in a YouTube video meant to calm down the wave of vitriol from the
haredim, which didn’t quite work.
As for his other “brother” Netanyahu,
it looks like they mostly patched up their relationship – unless you believe
some nasty rumors about the prime minister’s wife standing in the way. The two
reportedly speak to each other in English, as in the “good old days” when
Bennett was Netanyahu’s employee.
Let’s face it, Mishal probably owes
Bennett a lifetime supply of felafel. It’s understandable why the reporter
thought he’d win the bet, but the Bayit Yehudi leader is a political underdog
who made it bigger than many would have believed possible.