Man of the moment: Naftali Bennett

A year ago, the only people who knew who Bennett was were a few friends in Ra’anana and in hi-tech.

Bayit Yehudi Bennett & Netanyahu ad 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
Bayit Yehudi Bennett & Netanyahu ad 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
The election results were simple: Yair Lapid won, Binyamin Netanyahu lost.
But the story wasn’t over. The grueling coalition negotiations began and lasted until the last possible second. And this is when the story took a twist, and ended with a new winner: Naftali Bennett.
A year ago, the only people who knew who he was were a few friends in Ra’anana and in hi-tech.
And – oh, yeah – Bibi and Sara, too.
And today? Let’s give a round of applause for the new minister of economics and trade, religious services, and the person who controls the Construction and Housing Ministry, the Knesset Finance Committee, pensioners affairs and a political party with 12 Knesset seats, as well as the heart of the leader of another party with 19 MKs (Yair Lapid).
But the reality is actually much greater: On Wednesday afternoon, when Lapid and Netanyahu were each entrenched in their camps, coalition negotiations got stuck and the possibility of a constitutional crisis and a new election seemed closer than ever. At that junction, Bennett made a decision that saved the day. Naftali Bennett, and no one else, was the last piece of the puzzle. A government was finally formed.
Bennett had been Netanyahu’s chief of staff, but got sacked. He was now an enemy of the First Family and the nation. Following the 2009 election, when strategic affairs minister Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon appointed Bennett as director-general, Mrs. Netanyahu made it clear that this would happen over her dead body, so Bennett was excommunicated from there, too.
Bennett hedged his bets and aimed for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. They, too, threw him out.
At this point he sat down and tried to think what he should do.
He was a young, talented guy who had already had a hi-tech mini exit.
But ever since he had begun working for Bibi, doors had been slamming in his face. Bennett deliberated, and at last decided, together with his loyal partner, Ayelet Shaked, to go for Bayit Yehudi.
Guess what happened next. The Netanyahus went after him there, too. Two weeks before the Bayit Yehudi primary, Bibi was sure that Zevulun Orlev would beat Bennett for the party’s chairmanship. Sara and Bibi sent Natan Eshel in to take care of things. Eshel wined and dined Orlev, and generally stirred things up. And because Eshel is the kind of guy you can rely on, Bennett squashed Orlev, and took over the leadership of Bayit Yehudi.
But it didn’t end here, because the first couple did not despair. They boycotted him. Before the recent national election it was clear that Bennett’s chances of being included in the coalition were close to zero.
American strategist Arthur Finkelstein promised Bibi 45 seats, or at least a minimum of 42, and Netanyahu believed the stupid headlines in Time magazine that referred to his upcoming anointment.
Bibi’s advisers were clear when they claimed: Bennett is not even in the running.
Forget about him.
But then Bennett took counsel and found a savior: Yair Lapid. The pact was sealed, as was Netanyahu’s fate. As usual, Bibi had only himself to blame. He is the one who dug the pit he fell into. But as time passed, the picture became clearer, until Netanyahu finally understood: His fate was in the hands of Naftali Bennett. The alliance he had created with Lapid meant that he and Lapid would both be in and the haredim out. And there was more – if they wanted to, these two could call for a new election, which would mean one thing for sure: Bibi would have to leave the house on Balfour Street.
The Bennett-Lapid alliance was based on a personal relationship.
Listen, Bennett once told someone, Yair is just a great guy. We have different outlooks on political and religious matters, but we see eye to eye on finance, sharing the burden, and most important, ethical conduct. Yair is an extremely ethical person. He’s honest, smart and his word is worth its weight in gold. We have a true friendship. We decided that any decisions on political issues would be based on values and truth. We made a promise, and we’ve kept it.
Bennett explains that this alliance is based on common sense and fairness. “I told Yair that I would be with him for everything fair and reasonable. Therefore, when he insisted on getting the Foreign Ministry, I did not come.
But when he asked for Education, I was there.”
Why did Bennett support him for Education but not for the Foreign Ministry? Last Wednesday afternoon, when the significance of the impasse came to light, Bennett sat down with his advisers in his house in Ra’anana and racked his brain. If Lapid doesn’t cave in during the next few hours, Bibi said he would form an instant government with the haredim. At that point, when he saw that his friend was being cornered, Bennett made a decision: Lapid would get the Education Ministry. And one more thing: Bennett decided that there would be no minority government. If Netanyahu formed a 55-member minority coalition with the haredim, in the hope that Bennett wouldn’t try to bring it down, then he would do just that. And a new election would be called.
Bennett got into his car, and drove to Lapid’s house. He listened to Lapid explain once more why he wanted Education. So Bennett agreed to go for it, but reminded Lapid, “Don’t forget, though, that sometimes we need to make compromises.”
So together they forged what Bennett calls the great compromise: Lapid would give up Interior, but get Education, and one more ministry (for Amir Peretz – better to have him on their side) would be added.
Then he got into his car and drove to Jerusalem. The rest is history.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.