Dozens of high school students from the Arab sector as well as students wearing Meretz shirts walked out of Naftali Bennett’s speech at a conference in Tel Aviv University on Sunday.
The walkout came after Bennett said that the internal security of Israel has been in a downward spiral this past decade and that citizens in the Negev cannot even park their cars without being afraid that someone will break in and steal their valuables, apparently alluding to Arabs.
He stated that the main issue of the upcoming elections is not social issues or the cost of living, as numerous other parties have put at the forefront of their campaigns. Rather, the main issue is the security of the State of Israel.
As such, Bayit Yehudi intends to ask for the Justice Ministry portfolio and place MK Ayelet Shaked as Internal Security Minister, he said.
The conference, organized by the Education Ministry and the Citizen’s Empowerment Center in Israel, brought together some 1,000 12th grade students who will be first-time voters in the upcoming elections.
Bennett, the most controversial speaker at the conference, seemed unfazed by the walkout and responded by saying that running away was a typical leftist response.
“It is always the way of the Left to run away. So run away. We are staying in Israel and we will not run away,” he said.
“I will not run away,” he said to mounting applause. “I think we have learned an important lesson in democracy,” he added. “We will not be silenced.”
After the walkout, supporters of Bennett stood up and began shouting slogans of support, while a couple of students wearing green Meretz shirts attempted to approach the podium screaming and cursing, causing a major ruckus in the university auditorium. Soon a majority of the students were standing up in their seats shouting slogans of support and applauding him.
Bennett was the last among the numerous party representatives to address the students, following Yair Lapid from Yesh Atid, Yuli Edelstein of the Likud, Moshe Kahlon of Koolanu, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, Arye Deri of Shas and Zehava Gal-On of Meretz.
The speakers were asked to address the question, “How do we ensure the next government will succeed?” Politicians had 20 minutes each to pitch their party platforms and woo the young voters.
The event quickly turned into a platform for some of the candidates to make subtle jabs at one another.
Edelstein urged the young students to vote for older and established parties, cautioning them against voting for new and inexperienced parties which try to include “soccer players and reality stars” on their list – a jab at Yesh Atid and coalition partner Bayit Yehudi.
He joked that there are only two serious candidates in the upcoming elections: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “Just not Bibi.”
Other candidates such as Herzog and Kahlon outright attacked their opponents.
“Every time there was a minister that did not fit the position, the minister and the public suffered. Yair Lapid sat in the Finance Ministry and did nothing; [International Relations Minister Yuval] Steinitz [Likud] was aware of all the problems but chose to ignore them,” said Kahlon.
The Koolanu party head said that he would seek the Finance Ministry portfolio to address the housing crisis, the high cost of living and the large gaps in society.
“I’ll be the first social finance minister of the State of Israel. It will be the first time the finance minister will really understand the social hardships,” he said to a round of applause.
Herzog walked into the auditorium to a mix of cheering and booing but quickly won over the crowd with his campaign-style speech.
The Zionist Union leader jumped right in attacking Netanyahu, saying that the prime minister had failed in every respect and that he offered “a full alternative.” While other candidates focused on one or two key issues, Herzog made widespread promises across social welfare, education, security, health, and cost of living.
At the end of the event though, this tactic seemed to pay off, as a poll conducted among the students found that Herzog was viewed as the most influential speaker, receiving 41.41 percent of the vote, followed by Kahlon with 25.25%, Lapid with 11% and Bennett with 10%.
Furthermore, when asked who they intend to vote for, some 36% of students said they would most likely vote for the Zionist Union, followed by Bayit Yehudi with 12.4% of the vote, Koolanu with 11.34%, and the Likud and Yesh Atid tied with only 9.28%.