Arutz Sheva spoke to Bayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) chairman, Naftali Bennett, in English so that readers can have the opportunity to read his answers in the original words in which they were spoken.
Bennett's English is unhesitant and fluent. He is just as eloquent in English as he is in the Hebrew speeches that continue to result in rousing applause – and constantly rising polls - all over Israel. A former commander in the elite IDF commando unit Sayeret Matkal and a graduate of Haifa's Yavne Yeshiva High School, he is the son of American Jewish immigrants from San Francisco.
Q. What is your central message for Anglo voters?
Bennett: Our central goal is to restore proud Jewish identity to all Israelis. For too many years, too many people here have been ashamed to say that they love the Jewish people, its Torah and its land, the values that led Western immigrants to move to Israel.
These are very interesting elections. We all know who the next prime minister will be. The question is what kind of government he will form, will it be left or right? Will it be a national Jewish Zionist coalition with us as a major party or will it be a leftist one? We have to be strong enough to make the decision to form a nationalistic coalition the only feasible one.
Q. What about those who say you are extremists?
Bennett: Quite the opposite. We are the real "centrists"– loving our heritage is centrist, loving the Land of Israel is centrist, loving the Jewish People is centrist – that is what most Israelis feel, but there were those who made them feel ashamed to say so out loud. We are getting them to speak up.
We are the real centrist party because Israel is more Jewish than it has ever been.
If you think it is insane to hand over land to our enemies, you are not extremist, you are centrist. If you want user-friendly religious services, housing that is affordable, you are not extremist, you are centrist. The once centrist parties have turned left. In fact, many of our views are similar to those of the Labor party in the seventies. It is they who have changed.
We have a fantastic list. Nine of our first group of candidates were in combat units, we have three experienced former MK's, our younger candidates are idealists with proven accomplishments, we have three talented women, and another Anglo besides me. The Jewish Home has room for all Zionists.
Q. To what do you attribute your meteoric rise?
Bennett: It is not because of me, it is the natural outpouring of what Israelis feel in their hearts and needed an opportunity to be able to express. We are back to the basics and it is like a volcano erupting.
In fact, we are witnessing a "Jewish Spring" that is sweeping Israel, and that's why secular and religious Israelis are identifying with us and voting for us. People who believe the existence of the Jewish state is vital for Am Yisrael and love the state and the IDF are our supporters.. They might not wear a yarmulke, but perhaps they say Kiddush, light Shabbat candles, perhaps they put on tefillin.
They are looking for a Jewish home and we are that welcoming "Jewish Home" that makes them feel at home with their roots.
We are a vital bridge and I hope we meet the challenge.
It turns out that most Israelis have a strong Jewish identity, one that for many years may have been dormant – but it is there.
Q. What is your message to the different groups that make up Israeli society?
Bennett: We have to restore and strengthen basic values by tearing down the walls between various "tribes" in Israel and stop alienating one another – hareidi and secular and religious are one people.
Our primaries showed me that we must open up to everyone, secular, Sephardic, Ashkenazic, residents of the North and South.
Q. How do you propose to solve the hareidi issue?
Bennett: Hareidi Jews are our brothers, we are not going to go in for hareidi-bashing. Torah learning is a national interest of Israel.
However, there are many hareidi men that don't study all day, but don't serve in the army. They should join, should serve and work. The hareidim know that too, they don't want to stay locked in poverty. We need positive steps, not penalizing, not adding more dissension, but creating viable options that suit hareidi men, options such as battalions with special kashrut, new ideas such as making them firemen and ambulance drivers, suggestions that comply with their unique lifestyle.
This needs time and patience, not force. Forcing will curtail the progress that has already been made.
Q. Should we strengthen the Prime Minister's party?
Bennett: Anglos who are debating whether it is important to strengthen the ruling party, Likud, should look at its record for the past four years and see why the opposite is true and the Likud needs a strong partner. In the last four years, the Likud declared that it was for a Palestinian Arab state against its own platform, it froze construction, it stopped the Pillar of Defense Operation before a conclusive result was reached, it let anti-Zionist hareidim take over religious services and conversion, did not accept the Levi Report, all this despite all the religious and rightist MK's in the party.
Q. What are your educational goals?
Bennett: Too many young people don't know our heritage. When I was a commander, I wanted my soldiers to know my background and respect it. Current Education Minister Gideon Saar said we need non-religious ministers of education to succeed in including Jewish heritage in the curriculum so it won't seem sectarian – and I say, be proud and do what you think the Jewish people need. We have to be proud of our people and stop the galut (exile) mentality, we also have to be proud if we are religious Zionists, Jews who value the Torah of Israel, the People of Israel and the Land of Israel.
Q. How do you see the Chief Rabbinate's role?
Bennett: The Chief Rabbinate should be able to spread the beauty of Judaism to the wider nation as it once did. It is a wonderful opportunity for the country to see that a great Talmid Chacham can make their intersections with Judaism positive experiences.
The charismatic leader of the revitalized Religious Zionist Bayit Hayehudi party has a message for olim in an English video below in which he says: "My parents are from California. They chose Zionism out of love for Israel. The Bayit Hayehudi is your home because it represents the values and ideals that led you to make Aliyah. It’s time to take the message of your Aliyah to the entire country."