REALITY CHECK: Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett’s vision for the future is truly disturbing

The reality behind Bennett’s playacting is deadly serious, and provides one of the most dangerous threats to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

Naftali Bennett in hipster satire‏ (photo credit: screenshot)
Naftali Bennett in hipster satire‏
(photo credit: screenshot)
Hat tip to Naftali Bennett for funniest video yet of the 2015 elections. For those who haven’t seen it, the Bayit Yehudi leader dresses up as a Tel Aviv hipster who, in between reading Haaretz, walks around apologizing to everyone in sight: the waitress who spills his coffee, the driver who rear-ends him, etc. No matter who’s at fault, the Tel Aviv hipster takes the blame on himself.
In his video, Bennett acts the part of the Tel Aviv hipster perfectly – and that’s exactly why he’s so dangerous. In the past, the National Religious Party, the progenitor of Bayit Yehudi, was a party of gray, middle-aged men for whom the word “cool” only had meteorological connotations. Voting for the national-religious camp was like wearing socks with sandals: you had to be seriously out of touch with modern-day Israel to consider casting your vote for them.
But in the previous elections, Bennett changed all this. Using army slang, such as “achi” (“bro” in today’s English), Bennett connected with a wide swathe of young, secular voters, who were particularly impressed to see him bar-hopping in Tel Aviv.
His successful high-tech background and promises to trim the fat of the IDF budget won him favorable plaudits from the business community, and he promoted a friendly face of patriotic Judaism that had never been seen before. The Bayit Yehudi, under Bennett’s leadership, suddenly became a hip alternative to the Likud for the young, right-ofcenter voter.
Once in government, however, Bennett’s mask began to slip and Bayit Yehudi was revealed to be as conservative and sectorial as its National Religious Party predecessor. On issues such as religion and state, Bayit Yehudi blocked all the initiatives of its “big brother” party Yesh Atid such as tax credits for gay parents, preventing discrimination against homosexuals on issues such as obtaining mortgages, and a reform of Israel’s divorce laws. Anything that weakened the stranglehold of the Orthodox over the general Israeli public was immediately blocked by Bennett.
And any pretense that Bayit Hayehudi was not the partisan party of the settlement movement was swiftly dismantled with the appointment of the extremist Uri Ariel as housing minister and Nissan Slomiansky as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. Slomiansky made sure that government funds kept on pouring into the West Bank for remote settler outposts, while Ariel could always be relied upon to stir up tension with the United States and release construction plans for more Jewish building in east Jerusalem at the most inconvenient times for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During the Gaza war in the summer, Bennett was a constant critic of Netanyahu’s handling of the fighting, breaching all normal bounds of collective cabinet responsibility. He slammed the prime minister for entering cease-fire negotiations with Hamas and demanded a more aggressive approach to Gaza, despite the mounting international criticism of the toll the fighting was taking on Gaza’s civilian population.
Bennett’s vision for the future meanwhile is truly disturbing. His solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis is for Israel to unilaterally annex the 60 percent of the West Bank designated in the Oslo Accords as Area C – the territory which includes all the Jewish settlements and the open areas of the West Bank and have the rest of the West Bank operate as a Palestinian autonomous area, under Israeli security control, as it is today.
Given the growing international pressure against Israel, as seen by the recent votes in European parliaments to recognize Palestinian statehood and last week’s draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council that would set a deadline for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories, it’s clear that such a policy would turn Israel into a pariah state. But in a stunning example of arrogance and lack of understanding of Israel’s dependence on international support for its survival, Bennett simply shrugs his shoulders and says the world would get used to this situation.
His hipster video might be funny and resonate emotionally with Israeli viewers – at its conclusion Bennett whips off his fake beard and glasses and says: “From today, stop apologizing. Join the Bayit Yehudi” – but the reality behind Bennett’s playacting is deadly serious, and provides one of the most dangerous threats to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.