Yoaz Hendel & Chili Tropper: Blue and White’s architects

#37: Yoaz Hendel & Chili Tropper

Yoaz Hendel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yoaz Hendel
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On February 21, Israel woke up to a new political era. Three parties – Israel Resilience, Telem and Yesh Atid – had come together with a singular purpose – to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the April election and revitalize Israeli society.
The night before, the three leaders of the different parties – Benny Gantz, Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon and Yair Lapid – had holed themselves up in an office building, negotiating through the night. There were also a few advisers. But two people stood out for the role they played in bringing the factions together into one list – Yoaz Hendel and Chili Tropper.
Tropper, 41, was one of the people who helped push Gantz into politics. Hendel, 44, helped Ya’alon found Telem and negotiated its merger with Israel Resilience, which was revealed the same evening Gantz announced his decision to enter politics in January. Tropper has turned into one of Blue and White’s more prominent faces and is often touted as a future party leader.
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Hendel and Tropper share a lot in common. Both are graduates of the religious Zionist movement and served in elite IDF units. Hendel was an officer in the Israel Navy’s Shayetet 13 – the equivalent of the US Navy SEALs – and Tropper served in Duvdevan, the army unit that operates undercover in the West Bank.
Until he entered politics, Hendel, who has a doctorate in history, was the leading voice of the Right in the left-leaning newspaper Yediot Aharonot. In 2011, he was recruited by Netanyahu to serve as his director of communications and public diplomacy, only to feel compelled to leave less than a year later when Netanyahu failed to fire his chief of staff Natan Eshel for sexually harassing a co-worker.
He started as a Netanyahu supporter, but over the past four years 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.
“He [Netanyahu] cannot say he is the prime minister of everyone anymore,” Hendel lamented in a recent interview. “My friends in the [Shayetet] who are on the Left are willing to sacrifice their lives for the state, yet they are being called traitors. Right or Left is now defined as for or against Bibi, and I can’t accept that. It’s dangerous because it puts holes in the boat that we’re all in.”
Hendel entered politics to try to push a new voice in the Right. He calls it the “sane Right” that can sit with the Center, and get along with the haredim, the secular and all kinds of Israelis. In Tropper he found a partner to push this new agenda of a nationalistic liberal Center-Right.
Tropper and Hendel are neighbors who live in Ness Harim, just outside of Jerusalem. Tropper was born in Jerusalem and is one of the nine children of Faigie and Daniel Tropper – who is the founder of Gesher, which trains Israeli leaders to forge connections and unity between different sectors of the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.
Before joining politics, Tropper spent about 20 years working as a social activist and educator. For five years, he was principal of the Branco Weiss High School in Ramle for teens who had dropped out of the school system. He also founded an NGO called B’Maagalei Tzedek that seeks to promote social justice in the spirit of Jewish tradition.
In 2012, he ran for the Knesset on the Labor Party’s list but failed to get in. Instead, he joined then-minister of education Shai Piron’s staff as a senior adviser.
With Blue and White’s future unclear, Hendel and Tropper will play a key role in trying to keep the party together, no matter who ends up forming the next government – Gantz or Netanyahu.
As the glue that helped create Blue and White, Hendel and Tropper are both worth watching in the years to come.