Israel Elections: Yoaz Hendel is the force with Gideon Sa'ar

“New Hope presents change. It presents right-wing and left-wing Zionist voters who know change must come from the Right with a political home that can create a different government."

Yoaz Hendel at his Ness Harim Party (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Yoaz Hendel at his Ness Harim Party
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
When Gideon Sa’ar was putting together his list for the Knesset, he had many options among the stable of candidates he had wooed to his New Hope Party.
He had promised the second slot to MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who was sought after by many parties, and the third to Ze’ev Elkin, who left the cabinet to join New Hope.
The fourth slot was the first for which Sa’ar could have chosen anyone. There were six current and former MKs, as well as a veteran diplomat, a mayor and descendants of the late Likud prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.
Sa’ar chose Yoaz Hendel because he saw him as a respected young leader who had proven himself as a minister in the outgoing government and as a visionary with an outlook that was a clear reflection of New Hope’s ideals.
“NEW HOPE and Gideon fit my views 100%,” Hendel said in an interview at his office in the Knesset.
He said the ideal government should work on returning the statesmanlike approach to running the country, bring about the stability needed for key reforms required by the pandemic, and deliver the national unity the previous government, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, failed to achieve.
“Without unity, the State of Israel will come apart,” he warned. “This is the greatest danger we are facing. Unity is an ideal that must be based on a nationalist Zionist outlook.”
Hendel said the next government must be led by Sa’ar and composed of parties with that outlook.
“New Hope presents change,” he said. “It presents right-wing and left-wing Zionist voters who know change must come from the Right with a political home that can create a different government which cares about helping the state, not a particular person. The government has been focused for too long on the needs of Netanyahu.”
Hendel said that because of that focus on Netanyahu and his ongoing criminal cases, Israel had an insurmountable national debt, no state budget, and is facing yet another election on March 23.
“We are in a fourth election because Bibi preferred it over passing a budget,” Hendel said. “My job is to bring about change and end the instability we cannot afford to have during an Israeli and international struggle with the coronavirus and the economic and socioeconomic crises it caused.”
HENDEL, 43, is a married father of four whose wife is from a home of immigrants to Israel from Brooklyn and Teaneck, New Jersey. He considers himself “sometimes religious.” He keeps Shabbat but does not wear a kippah during the week and does not want to be part of a particular sector.
He served in the Shayetet 13 naval commando unit as a company commander. In the IDF reserves, he commands a special unit. After earning a doctorate in Israel’s military history, he worked for the Institute for National Security Studies, which is affiliated with Tel Aviv University, and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University and chaired the Institute for Zionist Strategies.
WITH BLUE and White leader Benny Gantz in the Knesset, May 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)WITH BLUE and White leader Benny Gantz in the Knesset, May 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Between 2011 and 2012 he served as director of communications and public diplomacy for Netanyahu. When the premier gave him the job, he enjoyed having influence over the state’s future. He was sent along with Yitzhak Molcho to represent Israel at the January 2012 Quartet talks in Amman.
But in the 10 months working in that job, he saw the alleged corruption and did not feel comfortable around it. When Netanyahu did not fire his chief of staff Natan Eshel after he and cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser told him that Eshel was sexually harassing a co-worker, he quit along with Hauser, who is now on the same list for the Knesset.
He started as a Netanyahu supporter, but over time Hendel saw Netanyahu’s behavior change and overstep norms. This made him determined to enter politics and bring about the defeat of his former boss.
Nevertheless, he still favored entering Netanyahu’s government, in which he served as communications minister from May to December 2020. In that short period of time, he arguably accomplished the outgoing government’s only reform in bringing high-speed Internet to the periphery.
“I did everything possible to make the government work, except lying on the floor to be dragged over,” Hendel said. “I initially thought Netanyahu finally had decided to be statesmanlike. But it took him two weeks to decide otherwise, and since then there have been problems. This election is a failure for him. A mayor with no budget is removed from office. Any company executive who fails four times would be fired.”
Hendel, who ran with Gantz’s Blue and White Party in the last three elections, said the lesson that must be learned is that Netanyahu can be replaced only by the Right, and that is why he joined Sa’ar’s party.
He said he could have joined Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party, but he wanted to be on a list committed to replacing Netanyahu.
“My choice was based on who could bring change,” he said. “Sa’ar was the man who was most determined. You don’t make the same mistake twice. I hear Bennett, and I don’t hear change. If Bibi can form a government with Bennett, I think Bennett will join him.”
Hendel said he hopes Netanyahu will be able to end his political career in a manner that would maintain his honor. He recalled meeting with Netanyahu a year ago when he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hendel to enable a government to be formed without Blue and White.
“I asked him why he has made the legal system his enemy,” Hendel recounted. “I back reforms in the legal system. But he speaks against the legal system from his belly, due to his own personal reasons. No one wanted civil war. I wish I had the opportunity to send Netanyahu home respectfully.”
Hendel believes Netanyahu could have implemented sovereignty in Judea and Samaria when Donald Trump was president of the United States, and that the prime minister missed a crucial opportunity.
Hendel said he insisted on a unity government of the Likud and Blue and White to enable fundamental changes to be made, and he also stopped efforts in Blue and White to form a minority government that would have relied on the Joint List backing it from outside the coalition.
“I have nothing against Arabs,” he said. “I’m against those who don’t back Israel as a Jewish state. I am also not against Jews, but I am against supporters of [late far-Right leader Rabbi Meir] Kahane.”
He noted that he served in Operation Protective Edge, and thus is among the IDF officers that Arab politicians want to put on trial in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“I helped close the gaps with the Arab sector as communications minister,” he said. “Arab MKs don’t help Arabs. They keep them in stagnation.”
Hendel is proud of also helping advance women’s rights. He said Netanyahu has repeatedly crossed redlines and shown disrespect to women. In one instance, Netanyahu put down Shasha-Biton in a KAN Reshet Bet interview. When asked to explain why nearly 6,000 Israelis have died from the virus, the prime minister said: “Ask the Shashot and the pakot and the paka.”
Netanyahu’s remark reminded Hendel of the Eshel incident.
“I cannot forget his moral failure back then,” Hendel said. “He decided to support power because it was convenient to him. I see it again now with the way he relates to Yifat by mocking her. It’s not respectful for a prime minister to act that way. If someone else would have said ‘Shashot,’ there would be an uproar.”
Hendel said Netanyahu’s comments also showed how the premier repeatedly avoids taking responsibility.
“For years, he has taken credit for whatever has gone right, even if done by others, and blamed others for what has gone wrong, even if it was done by him,” he asserted. “The vaccines are him. The economic crisis is [the fault of] others.”