Former prime minister Naftali Bennett doubts that the proposed controversial judicial reform will materialize in its present context. The big issue, he told members of the Foreign Press Association at a meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday, is saving face.
While conceding that some degree of reform is needed, Bennett said that “it has to be moderate and incremental.”Having experienced compromise in both business and politics, Bennett said that compromise is “incredibly easy” especially as there is widespread agreement that the system needs fixing. “But it’s not only about substance,” he said. “It’s also about form.” The rhetoric heard on both sides, he explained, makes negotiating difficult.
In a Q&A session, what seemed to bother journalists most was the death last year of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in Jenin by a bullet from the gun of an Israeli soldier. Her colleagues in the FPA wanted to know what could be done to prevent journalists from becoming similar victims in the future; whether the investigation into her death had been properly conducted; and whether it was morally right for soldiers who killed civilians to escape trial.
Bennett, who is himself a former army officer who has fought on different fronts, while sympathetic to the fears of journalists, asserted that no Israeli soldier would deliberately kill or harm a civilian, but bad things happen inadvertently when a country is at war. “At the end of the day being at the front lines is a very dangerous place,” he said, adding that Israel has people murdered on the streets on an almost daily basis. “We’re surrounded by some of the worst terrorist organizations on earth. If our neighbors were Luxembourg or Sweden, we’d have a much better time.”
'A dumb law'
Asked, if he were prime minister again, whether he would include an Arab party in his coalition, Bennett replied in the affirmative. “Mansour Abbas is a courageous Arab leader who took a huge personal and political risk,” he said. “It’s in Israel’s strategic interest to help him in bettering conditions for Arabs. He’s a really nice guy.”
Bennett also spoke at length about haredi men serving in the army. Current legislation, he said, is self-defeating. A young haredi man who wants to work has to go to the army first. If he doesn’t, he has to stay in yeshiva till he is 26 years old. “It’s a dumb law.” Bennett believes that any young haredi man who wants to work should be free to do so, as well as to get a good education.
In his view 60%-80% of young haredi men are wasting their time in yeshiva, because Talmud studies are very difficult, and not everyone can master them.
It may not be fair to let them go out to work when other young men are risking their lives in defense of the country, he acknowledged. He himself had soldiered in Judea, Samaria, Lebanon and Gaza, and his son is going into a combat unit. “It’s unfair, but it’s smart” In parallel to that, he would raise salaries in the army.
If his idea vis-à-vis haredim was adopted, he believes, in 25 years, most haredim would be working and paying taxes and many would want to serve in the army.
Part of his thinking in this respect is based on the fact that despite the explosive demography in haredi society, the haredi political parties have not grown.
Asked about his own political future, Bennett ducked the issue, and said that after twelve years of political pressure, he and his family were enjoying a honeymoon.