Naftali Bennett (left) and Avigdor Liberman.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM & GPO)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, leaders of Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu, respectively, are the two most influential cabinet members after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself.
Liberman, because of his job, and Bennett, to some extent, because he outflanks Netanyahu from the Right. Both keep Netanyahu in line with the right-wing policies on which the coalition is based. As defense minister in a country dealing with daily threats, Liberman’s influence is apparent. He has a part in the major issues impacting Israel every day. While, for the most part, he’s stayed focused on security since entering the coveted role last year, Yisrael Beytenu has a detailed platform with ideas on social issues and relations with the Arab minority in Israel, and Liberman doesn’t hesitate to let his views known.
His MKs, who are thought to be firmly under his thumb, are often leading signatories on some of the most notorious right-wing legislation in the Knesset. Just about any time Netanyahu does or says something especially right-wing, the Left will say he’s trying to appease Bennett.
Bennett is the education minister, but he wishes he were the defense minister. He says Netanyahu promised him the portfolio before the last election, but reneged on the deal. That doesn’t stop Bennett from speaking out on security issues almost daily. He was especially vocal about changing the way the security cabinet makes decisions, threatening the coalition until Netanyahu agreed to have all security cabinet ministers get regular briefings.
When it comes to settlements, Bennett is uncompromising, and the prime minister knows he can’t concede one inch without him and the rest of Bayit Yehudi making a lot of noise. This year, Amona was evacuated by court order, despite the best efforts of Bennett and his second in Bayit Yehudi, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, but the Knesset passed a law that could retroactively legalize thousands of settlement homes. They lost the battle – Amona – but are not done trying to win the war to keep settlements intact for good.