Bennett's real test: persuading MKs to follow him - analysis

Successful leaders earn people’s trust to the extent that they will follow them even if they do not completely agree with them.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Tanach learning track meeting at Ben-Gurion House in Tel Aviv, May 31, 2022. (photo credit: NOAM RIVKIN-PANTON/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Tanach learning track meeting at Ben-Gurion House in Tel Aviv, May 31, 2022.
(photo credit: NOAM RIVKIN-PANTON/FLASH90)

The true test of leadership is whether leaders can persuade people to follow them.

Successful leaders earn people’s trust to the extent that they will follow them even if they do not agree with their positions on key issues.

Unsuccessful leaders cannot make people follow them even when they agree with them on everything.

Initially, it seemed that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was in the former category. He united politicians from the Right, Left and Center with varying views on key issues.

Perhaps he could even bridge the gap between warring Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But over the past three months, Bennett has been unsuccessful in getting his own Knesset members who he handpicked for his Yamina list to stand behind him.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem last month.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem last month. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL)

Crumbling coalition

“Whoever does not recognize the right of Israel to build in Judea and Samaria should be disinvited from coming.”

MK Nir Orbach (Yamina)

Had there been primaries in Yamina in which Idit Silman and Nir Orbach were voted in against their party leader’s wishes, it would be understandable for them to defy Bennett and rebel. But Orbach in particular has been a close aide and friend of his for a decade.

When they met on Monday morning, Bennett could not even convince Orbach to let him remain as prime minister when US President Joe Biden visits Israel in three weeks. If Orbach brings down Bennett in a vote to dissolve the Knesset next week, the prime minister greeting Biden will be Yair Lapid, whose views are very different from Orbach’s.

Orbach recently said that Biden should not come to Israel if he wants to limit Israeli construction over the Green Line.

“Whoever does not recognize the right of Israel to build in Judea and Samaria should be disinvited from coming,” he said.

Now, thanks to Orbach, Biden could be greeted by a prime minister who has no problem halting settlement construction. Bennett’s only titles would be alternate prime minister and minister of settlement affairs, ironically a title promised to Orbach that was blocked by Lapid.

The same tests are being faced by the leaders of Meretz and Ra’am (United Arab List), who have been unable to persuade their own rebels to believe in their ideology and political strategy. Mks Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Mazen Ghanaim have been told by their leaders that their rebellion could set back Arab society for decades, yet their impassioned pleas have been unheeded.

It is not too late for Bennett, Nitzan Horowitz and Mansour Abbas to change their momentum and start succeeding. Even if the vote to dissolve the Knesset passes on Wednesday, it is only a preliminary reading.

A bill to disperse the Knesset in its preliminary reading has never been prevented from passing into law. But this is a very different Knesset that has already set plenty of precedents.

Orbach has not met yet with Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was called in to close the deal with Silman. The deal includes a reserved slot on the Likud list and a promise to be appointed a minister in a Netanyahu-led government.

In private conversations, Orbach has admitted he knows that Netanyahu’s promises cannot be trusted. If Netanyahu persuades Orbach to nevertheless accept a deal despite all the politicians he has misled over his 35 years in politics, it would be yet another successful test of Netanyahu’s leadership.