NEW YORK – Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett had a question for the 11
protesters from the anti-occupation group “All That’s Left,” who showed up to
greet him outside the 92nd Street Y for his talk with author Dan Senor on Sunday
Bennett pulled a small coin out of his pocket and showed it the
audience saying it was from the year 66 and had the words “Freedom of Zion”
written in Hebrew on it.
“I’m holding a physical coin that was found
outside the Green Line, in what’s called the ‘occupied territories,’ where two
Jews were probably doing business, speaking the same Hebrew I speak today,
living in the same place where I work today, and they’re my direct ancestors,”
“Now you tell me, can I occupy my own home?” At this, the very
supportive but half-full auditorium burst into applause.
briefly into the peace process, and said that even though Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s government was founded on the basis of reaching a peace
settlement, he (Bennett) still opposes the creation of a Palestinian
“Netanyahu is very focused on moving forward toward founding a
Palestinian state in the Land of Israel, and I vehemently oppose it,” he said.
“Yet I realize that his government is founded on this basis, and I joined the
Bennett then gave voice to the thought bubble hanging over
everyone’s heads: “I don’t think there’s much chance these negotiations will
bring about peace,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to reach a deal and
neither does anyone else, neither the Palestinians nor the
But, he continued, “If Israel is required to concede land and
kick Jews out of their houses – that I think is profoundly immoral to kick
anyone out of their houses, Arabs or Israelis – but if that comes to bear, let’s
go to the people.
“I said to Bibi, to the prime minister, go ahead, send
in Tzipi Livni, when she goes and brings peace, we’ll talk. Let her bring peace,
but based on the parameters. Now the second part is, we’re also passing a bill
for a national referendum. So if Israel is required to concede land and to kick
Jews out of their houses... if that comes to bear, let’s go to the people. It’s
such a dramatic thing, and we are going to get this bill through over the next
six weeks, it’s progressing and there’s consensus. So then I say, go bring
peace, and if there is peace, we’ll go to a national referendum. If the people
of Israel support it I will respect that, even though I disagree.”
said that if the Israeli people supported whatever deal Justice Minister Tzipi
Livni, who is in charge of the talks with the PLO, brought home, he would
Bennett was not so sanguine in his views on the
negotiations between the world powers and Iran. “A bad deal will lead to war,”
he said. “A good deal will prevent war.”
He then outlined why the West
needed to keep up the sanctions and push for a good deal that would completely
dismantle the Iranian nuclear enrichment mechanisms.
“Iran doesn’t want
to acquire a nuclear weapon today,” Bennett said. “They want it tomorrow,”
meaning, they want to wait for the US to become entangled in some other crisis,
and then break out in six weeks.
“The Obama administration is a huge
friend of Israel,” he said, “and we share this objective” of dismantling
Tehran’s nuclear program. “But our perspective is [that] it has to be an
either/or situation,” either Iran halts production, or the sanctions will
continue to hurt the Iranian economy.
“Only the pressure of, either you
survive, or you can have a nuclear program, will ‘Gorbachev’ Rouhani,” Bennett
said, referring to the frequent comparisons between Iran’s new president with
the former Soviet statesman.
Questions of the peace process, a future
Palestinian state, and of course Iran dominated much of Bennett and Senor’s
conversation, but Senor, as the co-author of the best selling book Start-up
Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, also gave Bennett ample
opportunity to trumpet his vision for Israel as a “lighthouse nation” unto the
world; that is, guiding developing countries using Israeli innovation in energy
Bennett recalled when he became economy minister in
February, diplomats and governors and ambassadors started meeting with
“I was prepared for them to talk to me about the usual: the
settlements and the conflict and this and that,” Bennett said, “and one after
another they come and they tell me, ‘We’re stuck. We don’t have growth in my
South American country,’ or, ‘My state needs better cyber security, we need your
innovation.’” Bennett said this made him recognize the two narratives on Israel:
One of the conflict, that “we’re always losing. Even though we’re right,” and
another narrative of Israel’s innovation.
“We don’t have good enough PR,
but if we build 2,000 model farms in Africa, Africa’s not going to be talking to
us about the conflict,” he said.
“Israel isn’t about conflict all day,”
Bennett said. “We’re an imperfect nation, but we try hard, and we’re trying to
do good everywhere we can around the world.”