Taking care of Am Yisrael

In his decision to run for leader of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennet has a lot on his agenda.

Naftali Bennett 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Naftali Bennett 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of the most intriguing personalities to recently throw his hat into the political ring is 40-year-old Naftali Bennett.
A success story in various fields, his resume includes company commander of an elite army unit; co-founder and CEO of a successful hi-tech company; chief of staff for Binyamin Netanyahu while he was the opposition leader; CEO of the Yesha Council; co-founder of the My Israel national movement; and the founder of the Yisraelim movement.
For the last six months, Bennett has been promoting a plan to start increasing sovereignty over Judea and Samaria by formally annexing Area C.
His announcement to officially enter politics appears to have caught the interest of many observers. To clarify some of his intentions, The Jerusalem Post recently conducted a brief interview with Bennett.
Following months of political speculation, rumors and short-lived announcements, you finally decided to run for head of Habayit Hayehudi [The Jewish Home, formerly Mafdal] in the party’s upcoming internal primaries. With all the options open before you, why did you choose this one? Wouldn’t it have been easier to simply join the Likud?
The national camp is effectively gone. The Likud used to be the national camp, and many from the national-religious community, myself included, worked very hard to turn Netanyahu into prime minister.
However, once he was elected, everything changed: Ehud Barak became defense minister in charge of Judea and Samaria, and then there was the building freeze that affected 350,000 citizens. The fundamental problem is that when it matters most, no one pays any attention to us, and unfortunately this isn’t going to change.
Moreover, the reason for the big national- religious move within the Likud has failed is because fundamentally it’s an attempt to take over a party with an existing DNA in order to instill within it a totally different DNA. This simply won’t succeed.
Therefore, what we need to do is to create one big national camp, with a core from Habayit Hayehudi, together with partners who are traditional and secular, in order to build the national camp back up again. That’s our only option.
Right now all we have are three seats in the Knesset, and that’s why there is not one national-religious MK in any decision-making forum or in any key position – not defense minister, not foreign minister, not finance minister and not prime minister. We don’t even have any member in the shminiya [the inner “kitchen cabinet” of the government comprising eight ministers]. It’s like we’re nothing. We’re not taken into consideration, and the only way for this to change is to become a very strong power. I’m talking about 15 seats in the Knesset, which will enable us to lead and not just be the gabbai on the sidelines.
Assuming for a moment that you became the new chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, in what direction would you like to lead the party?
The key direction is to look outward and to stop being sectorial. This means not only taking care of who will be a member of the religious council in Hadera but to start dealing with the big issues, such as the large socioeconomic gaps or the very titled character of the Supreme Court or the situation in the Negev and Galilee, where we’re losing our national lands. We also need to work on instilling a good, strong Jewish-Zionist identity in all the children in Israel, not just the religious ones. In other words, we need to stop looking inward and start focusing on all of Am Yisrael.
A leader doesn’t only take care of his own needs; he takes care of the entire nation. So if we want to be leaders, we have to have a bold vision of being a leadership party that will take care of all of Am Yisrael.
Although that sounds great, in the eyes of many Habayit Hayehudi is considered a dying party that historically has been overly concerned with the needs of one sector of the population. This being the case, do you think you have the ability to not only resuscitate the party but also transform it into something that it’s never been before?
Either we do a massive transformation and turn into a leading Jewish-Zionist party or we simply become extinct and die. In its heyday, the party (originally Mafdal) had 12 seats, then seven and now three, while in the polls before this big move the party didn’t even make it past the minimum threshold.
In order to survive, we need to have a revolution, and the revolution is already happening in the field.
We also need to change the way we view ourselves and our role in society. What I mean is that we need to stop seeing ourselves as just the “religious ones.”
For example, in the army I was a company commander in the Special Forces, and I’m currently a major in the reserves in the Sayeret Matkal [General Staff Reconnaissance Unit], but I never considered myself the “religious guy.” Or when I created a company that eventually had 140 employees, I never saw myself as the “religious guy.” I was the CEO, and that was my role.
In politics, however, we’re always allowing ourselves to be confined to this tiny little drawer. As a result, the most senior ministerial position we’re allotted is something like the minister of hasbara [public diplomacy] or minister of science. It’s ridiculous! When we talk about navigating this country, especially in light of the values we believe in, we’re simply not there to navigate. So rather than being the ones that lead the country, we’re the ones that take care of the religious issues. We need to stop dealing only with the “religious stuff” and start being partners in leading the country.
If I understand correctly, you essentially want to change Habayit Hayehudi from a party that historically tries to “influence” to a party that will start “leading”?
 It’s even more than that. Since the party is called The Jewish Home, let’s make it a real Jewish home that will include all Jews – religious, traditional and secular. In doing so, we’ll turn it from a small and narrow religious home to a broad Jewish-Zionist home. That’s the overall goal.
As you know, the pro-Israel Zionist camp, comprised of religious, traditional and secular Israelis, is currently spread across the political map. Therefore, do you really believe this powerful group, arguably the largest one in Israel, can be brought under one political umbrella for the good of the country? And if so, how?
The first thing that needs to be done is we need to win the primaries that are taking place in a few months, and the only way this will happen is if we have tens of thousands of people registering for Habayit Hayehudi. In this light, I invite everyone to register as a member of Habayit Hayehudi in order to vote for my group and to help us in fulfilling the vision. To make it easy, we set up the website www.israelim.org.il so that people can register online.
Please keep in mind that if you don’t register before September 8, you can’t vote.
Secondly, after we win the primaries, we’ll try to invite people back. Right now there are over 10 mandates in the Likud that were brought by religious Zionists. We’ll say to them, ‘What are you doing in the Likud?’ We brought the Likud to power, then Ehud Barak and the government “froze us” [the building freeze] for 10 months. They simply did this as if we don’t exist. Then Netanyahu declared Ehud Barak’s vision of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, a vision that goes against everything we believe in. Then when there was a bill to change the structure of the Supreme Court, again it was the Likud who brought it down. Likewise, when there was a different bill to stop European funding of anti- Israel NGOs, again it was the Likud who pulled back.
So at every juncture we’re not counted; and if we want to be counted, we have to be strong. Look at Shas. Although we differ, since they mainly take care of one sector while we want to take care of Am Yisrael, to their credit they have 12 mandates and they are one of the most powerful parties in Israel. But since we’re dispersed, we’re powerless. That’s the big difference.
For the last six months you’ve been promoting a plan for Israel to annex what is known as Area C in Judea and Samaria. How do the secular Zionists who have aligned themselves with you feel about this issue? Do they support you on this?
 In terms of the national camp, whether religious or secular, there is overwhelming support for declaring sovereignty over Israeli-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria. By the way, we just did a poll, and it showed that a majority of citizens (not just the national camp) support it. Not a huge majority, but a majority nevertheless.
In a nutshell, what are the most important issues that need to be addressed in Israel?
The first is to instill a very strong Jewish and Zionist identity in our youth via the education system.
Every kid needs to know who Yoni Netanyahu was and who the Rambam [Maimonides] was. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, so we have a lot of work to do. The second big issue is to take care of the periphery because right now there’s a huge and growing socioeconomic gap between those living in the center of the country and those dwelling in the North and the South. This is simply a time bomb. The third issue is the big security threat from Iran, which has to be dealt with within the next year or two one way or another.