Bennett wins Habayit Hayehudi leadership race

Party newcomer, a hi-tech millionaire and former Yesha Council chairman, gets two-thirds of the religious-Zionist party's votes.

Naftali Bennett, Zevulun Orlev 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett, Zevulun Orlev 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett overwhelmingly won the Habayit Hayehudi leadership race on Tuesday night, with about 67 percent of the vote.
Bennett, a newcomer to the party, successfully recruited thousands of new Habayit Hayehudi members and defeated his rival, veteran MK Zevulun Orlev, who received less than a third of the vote and unseated party leader Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, who pulled out of the primary last month.
Nearly 70% of the party’s 53,875 members voted in the primary.
Orlev is withdrawing from politics, and will not run for the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset list in next Tuesday’s primary.
Mystery candidate Yehuda Cohen, a Jerusalem schoolteacher who was on the ballot but did not campaign at all, received 79 votes.
The victor called a press conference in Tel Aviv at midnight Tuesday, after most of the votes had been counted, where he announced that he will make religious Zionism politically relevant again.
“No party brought such high numbers to its ranks in such a short time,” Bennett said. “Just like the IAF isn’t only the interest of pilots but of all the people, Jewish tradition cannot remain the private interest of those wearing a kippa.”
A euphoric-sounding Bennett listed in his speech the things he loves: the State of Israel, the Land of Israel, the Jewish people, the Torah, the IDF, religious people, secular people.
“The Facebook generation is one that is looking for a connection. I know it well, even though I don’t have much hair left on my head,” he joked, referring to his support from young voters.
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As for policy, Bennett referred to settlements and Torah study as two areas he plans to emphasize and strengthen.
“There are parties that ask where is the money, but we are asking another question. Where are the values? The answer is here, in this hall, in every house in the State of Israel, in millions of people saying, ‘this is a wonderful state we built in 60 years, and we are all proud of being a part of this nation, and want to make it a better place,’” he said.
Bennett, 40, lives in Ra’anana with his wife, Gilat, and three children. He was co-founder and CEO of Cyota, an anti-fraud software company that was sold for $145 million in 2005. Soon after the company’s sale, Bennett became chief of staff for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when he was opposition leader, and then chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
He also founded the public diplomacy organization “My Israel” with Ayelet Shaked, who worked with him in Netanyahu’s office and is running for the Habayit Hayehudi list.
Though Bennett and Shaked refuse to elaborate on the reasons behind their departure from Netanyahu’s office, sources close to the prime minister said the former left “scorched earth” when he departed, and that his tactics harmed Netanyahu.
Orlev’s campaign used Netanyahu and Bennett’s soured relationship to say that it may keep Habayit Hayehudi from joining the coalition, but Shaked has said that she believes the party is a “natural partner” for Likud and the prime minister will work for them for pragmatic reasons.
“Naftali and I never hurt Netanyahu,” Shaked told The Jerusalem Post in September.
The Bennett ally and 16 other candidates will run for Habayit Hayehudi’s Knesset list next Tuesday. The fourth spot is saved for a woman – with three in the running – and the fifth for one of four candidates under 40.