Who is Naftali Bennett; Israel’s new Prime Minister and hard-right tech millionaire?
Naftali Bennett is a former tech entrepreneur who made millions before he switched to, and got deeply involved in, right-wing politics and a religious Nationalist political position.
Naftali Bennett, a multi-millionaire former tech entrepreneur who made his name in politics with the hardline religious-nationalist rhetoric, was elected as the new Prime Minister of Israel after the Parliament approved a new government on June 13, 2021.
The 12- member Knesset of Israel voted in favour of the improbable coalition put together by the Centrist Yesh Atid Party’s Yair Lapid. Even with a razor-thin majority, the coalition was enough to end veteran Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 unbroken years as the PM.
The coalition deal sees Bennet serve as a Prime Minister of Israel in a rotation deal before Yair Lapid takes over after two years.
The 49 years old estranged former protégé of Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett has been the defence minister and a one-time special forces commando. He leads the right-wing Yamina Party which has called for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.
Naftali Bennet will also be the first premier of Israel to lead an openly religious lifestyle and will be the first to sport the Kippa, the small skullcap worn by religious Jewish men.
Who is Naftali Bennett?
A 49 years old politician, Naftali Bennett, with American parents is a former tech entrepreneur who made millions before he switched to, and got deeply involved in, right-wing politics and a religious Nationalist political position.
Labeled as ultra-nationalist, Bennet considers himself to be more right-wing than Netanyahu and claims that he does not use hate or polarization as a tool to promote himself politically.
Naftali Bennett had worked for Netanyahu as a senior aide between 2006 and 2008. However, he left the Likud Party of Netanyahu, after his relationship with him soured.
After Bennett entered politics, he had aligned himself with the right-wing national-religious Jewish Home Party and had entered Parliament as its representative in 2013.
Known for being a strong advocate for a Jewish nation-state, Bennett is known for insisting on Jewish religious and historical claims to the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem.
Bennett has also been the head of the Yesha Council which is a political group that represents Jewish settlers. He has been a long-standing advocate of the rights of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. However, he has never advocated Israeli claims on Gaza.
Naftali Bennett on Israel-Palestine:
He has strongly opposed Palestinian independence and has supported Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In 2013, in a series of comments against Palestine, Bennett had said that the Palestinian terrorists should be killed and not released. He had also argued that the West Bank was not under occupation because there was never a Palestinian state.
Bennett’s rise as the Prime Minister of Israel can be seen as a major setback for the Palestinians who hope for the negotiations for peace and an independent state, at some point.
New Coalition government in Israel:
Israel’s new coalition government which ended the 12 years rule of Netanyahu as the PM of the country, consists of the political parties that have little in common other than the desire to unseat the veteran right-wing Prime Minister.
The eight-party coalition in Israel led by Bennett and Yair Lapid spans the far-left to the far-right and also includes for the first time a small Islamist faction representing the Arab minority of the country.
The new party is expected to focus mostly on social and economic issues rather than risk exposing the internal rifts by trying to address the major diplomatic issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
End of Netanyahu’s 12 years rule: What led to the downfall?
Netanyahu, who portrayed himself as a world-class statesman and boasted his close ties with Russia and former US President Donald Trump, had received far chillier reception from the current Biden Administration in the US.
Moreover, his reputation at home also faded where he became a deeply polarizing figure. He persuaded a divide and conquer strategy that resulted in the rifts between Jews and Arabs in Israeli society and between his ultra-orthodox allies and secular Jews.
Netanyahu was also indicted of fraud, accepting bribes, and breach of trust in 2019. He further refused the calls to step down and lashed out at media, law enforcement, and judiciary, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup.
The protestors also began holding weekly rallies across the country calling him to resign. However, Netanyahu has remained popular among the hardline nationalists who dominate the country’s politics.
Israel’s new government and diplomatic ties with India:
After the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, India’s Permanent Representative at the UN, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti has urged both sides to show extreme restraint, desist from the actions that exacerbate tensions, and refrain from the attempts to change the existing status quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood.
Excellency @naftalibennett, congratulations on becoming the Prime Minister of Israel. As we celebrate 30 years of the upgradation of diplomatic relations next year, I look forward to meeting you and deepening the strategic partnership between our two countries. @IsraeliPM— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 14, 2021
Both Israel and India have shown strong bilateral ties since 1950. Currently, India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment while Israel is the second-largest defence supplier to Russia and India.
The relationship curve between the two countries has always been active and it grew further during PM Modi’s administration, with India abstaining from voting against Israel in the UN in several resolutions. There has also been engagement in expanding diplomatic ties between India and Israel through bilateral talks and coalition initiatives.