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(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett arrived at the Jerusalem Post’s offices in Jerusalem on Monday to discuss his party’s platform and his views on the chief concerns regarding Israel’s future.
The son of US immigrants, Bennett served in Sayeret Matkal before becoming a millionaire with the sale of his hi-tech company, which today has 400 employees. He also served as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff until 2008. Likud-Beyteinu launched an aggressive smear campaign against Bennett, with the prime minister dominating three TV channels last month in interviews which slammed the Bayit Yehudi leader.
Bennett credits the smear campaign for bringing him recognition. “We had an issue with name recognition,” he said. “Bibi solved that for us two weeks ago.”
As a result, Bayit Yehudi successfully captured the young people vote. Bennett notes with pride that if elections were held tomorrow with only the votes of the 18-45 age-group counted, Bayit Yehudi would be the largest party. “Netanyahu is forcing us to gain seats,” he said.
Bennett notes that his campaign’s message can be defined in one word. “Values. It’s about restoring values.” For Bennett the two central issues that are most critical to Israel’s future are both on the domestic front. The first is to restore Jewish identity in all realms of life and to reframe the debate on what being a Jew means. The second is to lower prices across the board, including housing.
Bennett praised the Bayit Yehudi list as being the only one out of all the parties that is fair. “Unlike [Yair] Lapid and [Tzipi] Livni, our list was done through primaries. We also have the youngest list. The first 9 people on the list were combat soldiers.”
Bennett explained the need for the National Religious Party (the previous incarnation of today’s Bayit) to undergo a transformation. “The Mafdal [NRP] was a lobby party for the religious. [Now] we want to take responsibility for all sectors.” He notes that religious people now understand the need for a more fleshed out representation. By way of example, Bennett makes mention of Ayelet Shaked, a secular woman from North Tel Aviv and number 5 on the party list who was elected by 54,000 religious people.
“We must drop the sectorial [sic] approach,” said Bennett. “We can no longer singularly focus on issues like hityashvut eretz yisrael [settling the land of Israel] – it’s not enough.”
Bennett made some conjectures regarding Netanyahu’s intentions for the coalition. “I sense that Netanyahu intends to form a government with Livni,” he said. “This would be a grand mistake because Livni is obsessed with Palestinian stuff and we’d waste another four years on a damaging peace process.”
For his own part, Bennett makes no pretenses about a peace process with the Palestinians, and only has what he terms “the imperfect solution.” This would mean distinguishing between the 3 areas of the West Bank, A, B and C and treating them differently. Areas A and B would gain full Palestinian autonomy meaning Palestinians will be able to have total freedom of movement without encountering a single IDF checkpoint. Israel would annex Area C with its 400,000 Jewish residents and the Palestinians therein. The 50,000 Palestinians (numbers according to Bennett) would then be offered full Israeli citizenship or residency status – whichever they prefer.
Bennett bemoaned the judicial system in Israel, lamenting the fact that because they elect themselves, judges have effectively created a guild. “Judges need to judge and governments need to govern. A judge does not need to govern,” he said.
He also commented on the corruption of politicians at the hands of oligarchs. “Too many politicians owe something to the tycoon,” he said. “Shelly is beholden to the unions, others are beholden to tycoons. I’m a slave to the public.”