Naftali Bennett is still officially in the government in the role of alternate prime minister.
Nevertheless, in a move that raises serious ethical questions, he has been represented in recent weeks by an agent in the United States who has started pitching him as a speaker to Jewish organizations, even speaking with them about fees.
The discussed events are scheduled to take place after the elections on November 1.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that a number of Jewish organizations in the Diaspora have been approached by talent agent Jamie Black, who presents himself as representing Bennett for booking speaking engagements.
The organizations were approached by Black after submitting an official request to Bennett’s ministerial office, which is staffed by government-funded advisers and officials.
After the requests were received by Bennett’s office, the organizations received an email or phone call from Black, who heads an agency called Central Park Speakers.
How did the organizations respond?
These organizations were surprised to hear from an external corporate middleman while requesting that an elected and current Israeli government official speak at their events. In at least two situations, Black sent a price quote on behalf of Bennett and in some cases asked for as much as $100,000.
“This is highly questionable activity,” a former senior Israeli civil servant said. “A sitting minister should not be looking into how to make money even if it is for when he leaves office.”
Sources in these Jewish organizations questioned Bennett’s staff about why there was a need for a middleman. They were reportedly told that Black takes care of international bookings.
“Legally, he is currently not allowed to work in another job,” said Tomer Naor, head of the legal department of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel.
Naor added, “From the point of view of public visibility, someone holding office of an elective position, as an alternate prime minister, should devote his time to public affairs and not promote his private affairs – certainly during an election period, and definitely as long as he receives a salary from the government.”
Bennett's and Black's different responses
In response to questions from the Post, Bennett’s spokesman said the “former prime minister and Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett does not work with an agent, and it goes without saying that his trips abroad throughout his 10 years as an Israeli elected official, including appearances in front of Jewish communities as we speak, are unpaid and are done as part of his position with great dedication. Naftali Bennett never charged a single shekel for a speech, lecture or any other activity for the Jewish people, as minister and prime minister.
“During his tenure, Bennett made sure to maintain contact with Jewish communities around the world and met with representatives of the communities frequently, and he considers this to be of great importance to the existence of the Jewish people.”
Finally, it was stated on his behalf that “there were indeed requests from various agents to represent him, but of course this is not on the agenda at the moment.”
Black is well known in the Jewish organizational world. He has represented top Israeli and Jewish speakers such as former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and journalist Bari Weiss.
In response to queries from the Post, Black contradicted Bennett’s spokesman, saying he was working for Bennett but without a signed contract. He added that no events had been set up.
“I was very eager to represent former prime minister Naftali Bennett and have been trying to work with him since he finished his tenure as prime minister. In order to prove our capabilities, Central Park Speakers has unofficially been contacting various Jewish organizations to get a lay of the land to prepare for if and only when Bennett shall depart from office. The contact has been of Central Park Speakers initiative,” Black claimed. “There has never been and is currently no contract signed between Central Park Speakers and Naftali Bennett, nor has any commercial speaking engagement been set.
“Bennett has made it clear to me that until his departure from government, he cannot sign a contract with any agency, and all of his public engagements are within his capacity as alternate prime minister of Israel. He has, to the best of my knowledge, upheld this standard,” Black concluded.
The assumption is that Bennett, a self-made millionaire (Bennett was one of a group of founders of a hi-tech company that was sold for around $150 million in 2005), could receive more than $100,000 from Jewish organizations for a speech.
According to the AAE Speakers website, Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden, charges between $100,000 and $200,000 for a live speaking engagement. Former president of Chile Ricardo Lago also charges above $100,000 for a speaking engagement, according to Aurum Speakers Bureau.
Last month, N12 reported that Bennett had been holding meetings with various hi-tech companies about the possibility of joining their ranks after the election.
On August 16, for example, the former prime minister visited Talon Cyber Security, a company that developed a secure browser. About two weeks earlier, the company announced a new investment of $100m., despite the slowdown in the pace of hi-tech investments in recent months.
Bennett’s office replied in response to N12’s inquiry that “Bennett meets from time to time with hi-tech companies and other companies” but added, “No talks are taking place [regarding him joining any of the companies] and nothing has been agreed upon regarding the future.”
Talon Cyber Security responded, “Bennett came to us in order to learn about the defensive cyber field in Israel. We are very proud that he chose to come and visit the Talon Cyber Security company. He is an impressive man, smart and has a very impressive technological understanding. There are no business connections [between us].”