Naftali Bennett would have every reason to be upset.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was formed, the Bayit Yehudi leader did not get to keep the Economy Ministry that he enjoyed.
The Religious Services portfolio was taken from him, too, which meant that responsibility for key matters of religion and state would shift back from relatively moderate Orthodox hands to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Netanyahu walked away with tens of thousands of Bayit Yehudi votes in the last week ahead of the March 17 election by running a campaign that scared right-wing voters into casting ballots for Likud. That left Bennett’s party with just eight seats, down from 12.
Bennett’s status as the leader of Israelis to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud has been put in doubt by the resurgence of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in the polls, thanks to Liberman staying out of Netanyahu’s government and attacking it from the right.
Nevertheless, Bennett appeared overjoyed in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post at his office in the Education Ministry in Jerusalem. He was not carrying the gun he noticeably packed a few weeks ago, causing front-page headlines.
But he was bearing a deep smile, eager to tell diplomats attending the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference and readers of the newspaper around the world about his accomplishments as education minister.
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“I’m the happiest guy in the world because I love my job,” Bennett said.
“I wake up in the morning and tell my wife how happy I am to educate 2.2 million children. True, I didn’t plan to get this portfolio, but what I’ve learned and achieved in the five months since I got the job has made it perhaps the most important position I could imagine.”
Bennett, who has small children, boasted about his success decreasing class sizes, reforming kindergartens, and lowering the age in which Arab children start learning Hebrew. He said he was also adding more Zionist content, nationalism and other values to the curriculum of Jewish schools.
“I hope this government goes on for a few years so we can accomplish as much as possible in raising academic results and ensuring that the proper values will be taught,” Bennett said.
BENNETT IS also utilizing his place in Netanyahu’s security cabinet to have input on key decisions regarding how to quell the wave of Arab violence. His suggested solution may surprise diplomats expecting the leader of the party farthest to the Right in the coalition to take a hard line.
“The violence should be seen as not only a crisis, but also an opportunity,” he said.
Following the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli government technically united Jerusalem by annexing sections that had been under Jordanian control for 19 years. But he noted that every Israeli government since then has refrained from taking steps that would truly unite the city, such as providing Jewish and Arab neighborhoods with equal services.
“When you’re in Wadi Joz, you don’t feel like you’re in Rehavia,” he said. “If you truly believe in a united Jerusalem, your deeds have to match your words.
We need a really united Jerusalem. It takes determination, audacity, and money to provide full services and law enforcement in the entire city.”
He singled out the schools and roads in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods as needing immediate improvement.
But he said that concurrently, laws in those neighborhoods must be enforced, such as traffic rules and paying municipal taxes.
“Jewish girls on Hagai Street in the Old City are being harassed by Arabs and the police there are being spat on and cursed,” Bennett said. “That could never happen on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. If we treat Hagai Street the same as Ibn Gvirol in Tel Aviv, that would be uniting Jerusalem.”
Bennett, who has recently conducted tours of Arab neighborhoods with security experts, said he was trying to persuade the government to adopt the plan. President Reuven Rivlin, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Joint (Arab) List head Ayman Ouda have reportedly endorsed the plan and worked to get it implemented.
Bennett said that full implementation of the plan would take five to 10 years, and would make it safe for Jews to walk from the Western Wall to the Mount of Olives.
“My plan would Israelicize all of Jerusalem,” he said. “All I am saying is to apply Israeli law to Israeli land. It is doable.”
BENNETT ALSO recommended to the security cabinet immediate steps that have been adopted – such as adding police, removing citizenship from terrorists and their families, and demolishing terrorists’ homes.
Asked if the Arab violence vindicated his right-wing views, Bennett said he did not care about whether he is seen as making correct predictions, but he is glad that more of the public has been adopting his views.
“The Oslo [diplomatic] process is the source of all the violence we are seeing now,” Bennett said. “Israel, in its folly, imported terrorists, injected them into Israel, and gave them keys. To fix this huge mistake, we have to say ‘no more.’ There will be no Palestinian state in the land of Israel. Israel has been ours for 3800 years, and we’re proud of it.”
Bennett favors applying Israeli law to Area C of the West Bank, in which all Jewish settlements are located.
“When we separated from the Palestinians in Gaza, they ran after us,” he said. “Gaza is an unsolved problem, and one of our main security concerns.
Knife attacks are yet another wave in violence. Some people don’t want us here. The only way for the Jewish state to flourish and stay here forever is for us to be stronger than our enemies, believe in our right to the land and continue to build in our land.”
Bennett said the current government was not building as much as it should.
He said the international community had no right to tell Israel not to build a porch or kindergarten in one community or another.
“It is a mistake to decide what is right for us based on what the world likes or dislikes when, to our north, 250,000 people have been killed without the world doing anything,” he said. “Our attitude should be to do the right thing for Israel. We don’t need an international babysitter. We need to continue building in all of Israel. Let the world not like it.”
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference
, a prestigious forum where some 400 ambassadors, ambassadorial spokespeople and military attachés from around the world will convene, takes place at the Waldorf, Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem on Wednesday, November 18. The conference, featuring an array of speeches from Israeli newsmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be broadcast live on Jpost.com.
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