On Thursday, December 20, the leader of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party,
Naftali Bennett, appeared on Nissim Mishal’s television interview program Mishal
Cham on Channel 2.
If anyone wishes to view the totally chaotic
interviewing and debating culture of Israeli politicians, Mishal’s program is a
perfect place to do so. For example, Yair Lapid and Aryeh Deri, who appeared on
the show the week after Bennett’s performance, spent most of the time speaking
simultaneously – not at the top of their voices, but nevertheless in a manner
that made it impossible to hear exactly what each was trying to say.
the case of Bennett he was the sole interviewee, and the cacophony resulted from
Mishal asking questions, Bennett dodging them, and Mishal trying (usually
unsuccessfully) to get him back on track.
It is strange that under the
circumstances Bennett actually made what appeared to be a serious faux pas, and
got all tangled up in an exchange with Mishal on the issue of refusal to obey
orders in the army on ideological grounds.
Viewing the interview several
times on the Internet, I discovered that my first impression upon watching the
program when first broadcast had been correct. When Bennett was asked by Mishal
what he would do if ordered to remove Jewish settlers from their homes, Bennett
(a Major in the reserves) actually answered that he would appeal to his
commander to be absolved from carrying out the order (in later interviews he
made it clear that he objects to throwing anyone out of his home – Arabs
It was then that Mishal pounced, saying, “So you advocate
disobedience!?” In response, Bennett forthrightly explained his ideological
position, saying that he would prefer going to prison to carrying out such an
The Likud, worried by the fact that the polls have been showing
consistently that Likud-Beytenu is losing voters to Bayit Yehudi, reacted by
embarking on a self-righteous anti-Bennett campaign.
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ideological disobedience of any sort in the IDF is totally unacceptable, though
to the best of my knowledge the IDF tries most of the time to reach some sort of
accommodation with those who are not simply draft dodgers for selfish reasons,
but rather persons with honest religious or ideological reservations, be they
left-wingers, right-wingers, national religious, or haredim
Apparently the Likud screwed up on this point, largely
because many of its own supporters, and of the right-wing parties in general,
sympathize with Bennett’s position. Furthermore, I suspect that most of the
candidates on the Likud-Beytenu list, if confronted with the same question as
Bennett was, would have reacted exactly as he did, though probably less
How would the Likud-Beytenu leadership have reacted? Most
likely the way they react every time Miri Regev (a former IDF spokesperson) or
Danny Danon (the chairman of the World Likud) blurt out some outrageous pearl of
wisdom. Nada. It’s all elections, stupid.
Though I did not particularly
like Bennett’s aggressive manner of speaking during his Mishal interview, and
disagree with many of his positions, I must admit that if I were forced to
choose between him and Netanyahu in elections (which, thank God, I am not) I
would definitely choose him.
The main reason is that I believe what he
says, which is something I cannot say about Netanyahu.
The second is that
despite his extreme positions about the eventual annexation of the whole of the
West Bank, and the insistence that Jordan is Palestine, he is not a xenophobe
nor a racist a la Michael Ben-Ari (and by the look of it, Bennett’s list might
actually manage to push the Otzma LeYisrael party below the qualifying
Furthermore, Bennett appears to be truly sympathetic to the
demands for social justice – including justice for Israel’s Arab citizens, and
genuine in his wish to build bridges between the religious and the
My main problem with Bennett is that regarding political issues
I am convinced that if he were prime minister he would lead Israel straight into
a brick wall, while in Netanyahu’s case, since I do not really know how he
thinks and what he believes, I can continue to delude myself that if pressed to
the wall he will end up doing the right thing.
Finally, in case someone
feels that only Netanyahu, with his fluent English, can face the world in a
language it understands, I recommend viewing a CNN broadcast from November 16,
2012, (during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza) in which Bennett
confronted one Ed (Mohamed Mahbub) Hussein – a senior fellow in the New
York-based Council on Foreign Affairs.
In Israel the confrontation was
presented as between Bennett and a “Palestinian representative.”
Ed Hussein was born in Britain to a Bangladeshi Muslim family, and the positions
he expresses are liberal and Western rather than radical and Muslim.
that as it may, Bennett’s appearance was exemplary – in fluent English, with the
right balance between facts and emotions, and what is most important, without
breaking into Hussein’s words, preferring to bite his lip and await his turn to
speak, which just goes to show that unlike most Israeli politicians he is
capable of holding a civilized debate.
Despite my warm words about
Naftali Bennett, don’t get me wrong – there is no chance I will vote for
The writer is a former Knesset employee.
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