After flagship religious-Zionist Mercaz Harav Yeshiva didn’t invite Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to speak at its annual Jerusalem Day event, he instead spoke at a women’s seminary. His attendance was not publicized until after the event.
Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana joined Bennett at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum on Tuesday evening. The prime minister stressed when he spoke that social divides within Israel and the Jewish people are more dangerous to the country’s future than external security threats.
Mercaz Harav this year invited neither Bennett nor opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to the annual event, in order to keep it free of politics. Ordinarily, the prime minister is asked to speak, no matter what their political status is. This year, it was decided that President Isaac Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion would speak instead, in addition to a number of rabbis.
Even though Bennett is considered a member of the religious Zionist sector, a majority of its constituents feel betrayed by his forming a government with left-wing and Arab parties. Bennett is therefore a persona non grata at many institutions that used to be his home base.
The greatest threat we face, more than Iran or Hamas, are these internal hatreds within our society. Those schisms reduce our ability to deal with other challenges.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
Bennett highlighted the role that the young seminary women have in overcoming challenges to communal and national unity.
One student asked Bennett what advice he would offer to those who would be encountering anti-Israel activities on university campuses in the Diaspora when they finish their studies in Israel and return to their home countries.“First of all, don’t ever apologize for Israel. Stand up for Israel,” Bennett answered. “What’s going on out there isn’t real dialogue but blatant antisemitism, and you need to stand up and be proud.”
When other students challenged Bennett for deviating from commitments he made during his election campaign, he conceded that while he doesn’t apologize for the structure of his current government, he does regret making certain promises to people with whom he would ally himself.
With this government, I decided that we would put ideological differences aside and focus on building a better nation.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“With this government, I decided that we would put ideological differences aside and focus on building a better nation,” he said.
Ohr Torah Stone president Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander addressed Bennett, saying, “Over the past year, as prime minister, you have chosen to stand up against political and communal pressures in hopes of discovering the common denominators that can better unite our society."
"You have challenged us to choose unity over division, even though it is hard to maintain, and we view this as a critical educational lesson to share with our students.”
Addressing the student audience of hundreds of young women, Brander added, “You are all truly privileged to be in the presence of an Israeli prime minister and see firsthand how Israel’s leaders care for all of humanity. And those are the messages that you can take back to your communities and universities.”
Midreshet Lindenbaum director Rabbanit Sally Mayer said after the gathering, “The chance for our students to hear from Israel’s political leadership and to be able to speak to him, and even challenge him on key issues, is something which I know these young women will remember for many years to come.
“They all came out of this evening with an appreciation of the key roles they have to play in our Jewish community – both here in Israel and wherever they will find themselves in the years ahead.”