ANALYSIS: Bennett's meteoric rise in Israeli politics explained

Why the former Defense Minister, whose Yamina party reached its nadir in the last election, is now soaring to new heights.

Yochanan Visser ,

Naftali Bennett
Naftali Bennett
Flash 90

As Israel is beginning to ease a second month-long lockdown which aimed to contain the second wave of the COVID-19 virus, only one political leader is profiting from the chaos in the country.

We’re talking about former Defense and Education Minister Naftali Bennett; whose Yamina Party is steadily rising in the polls and who is regarded as one of the few politicians who could replace current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s party Likud has fallen in the polls from 35 Knesset seats only two months ago to 26 today while Yamina rose from its current 5 seats to between 20 and 23 in recent polling.

Last week during the opening session of the Knesset, Bennett attacked Netanyahu and said: “Instead of fighting the (Corona) pandemic in the country, you prefer to attack me, just as King Saul once persecuted David in his last days.”

The leader of the Yamina party then doubled down on his criticism of Netanyahu.

“Instead of fighting around the clock for the people to save Israel from the health and economic crisis, you are wasting your energy fighting me.” Neither political tricks nor any ruse will stop me from helping my beloved people in the midst of this hardship, as they suffer from government negligence,” Bennett fumed.

It was other evidence that the relationship between the two right-wing leaders has further deteriorated during the coronavirus crisis. Two months ago Bennett almost burst out in tears during another speech in the Knesset when he accused the Gantz-Natanyahu government of having not done enough to contain the huge crisis Israel is experiencing.

Bennett has been highly critical of Netanyahu’s handling of the COVID-17 outbreak from the very beginning and formed a shadow Corona cabinet while drawing up an alternative plan to contain the health and economic crisis in Israel.

The last chapter and summation of Bennett’s plan, published under the title “From Crisis to Prosperity,” was translated by the news organization IMRA and brought on Arutz Sheva and deals with opportunities for the state of Israel in light of the Corona crisis.

Bennett, a former high-tech entrepreneur, also offers alternatives to the current coronavirus regime of the Netanyahu-Gantz government and thinks it would be a huge mistake to return to Israel’s situation prior to the Corona outbreak in February this year.

“With all the difficulty, COVID-19 has opened a window of opportunity for us to launch the State of Israel an entire generation forward. Complex social and economic processes that without the pandemic would have been delayed for many years can now progress rapidly, if only we decide to act with courage
working together,” the Yamina leader wrote at the end of his plan.

The most important thing the government should do now is not only aim to bring down the number of new Corona infections, but also open the economy to avoid more businesses collapsing, according to Bennett.

“The first and most urgent thing we must do is stabilize the Israeli economy. For those who have been thrown by the wayside by COVID-19 - first aid should be provided. Whoever it put on the ropes - should be put on their feet. Long-term damage must be avoided, and everyone must have a way to bring
bread home and pay rent. This is our basic responsibility as a country. It should be done now, immediately, without any delay” Bennett wrote.

The Yamina leader used to travel to villages and cities in Israel almost daily and there he spent time talking to ordinary people and owners of businesses who are hard-hit by the closures.

Bennett also claims that “countless factory owners, restaurants and various businesses complain to him that they are unable to recruit workers. Yes, while we are at the peak of all-time unemployment in Israel, tens of thousands of business executives are in dire need of working hands.”

This is because thousands of unemployed Israelis prefer to receive a year off with an unemployment benefit of 70 percent of their salary rather than go out to take risks for the other 30 percent of their wages, while others are participating in the black market economy to make ends meet.

“We need a different economic emergency plan. A program that believes in the powers of the citizens of Israel and gives them tools to rise on their own from the complex situation, they have reached,” according to Bennett, who just like Netanyahu, served in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit.

Bennett then continued to give one example of faulty government decisions: the complete lockdown of the culture sector in Israel.

Instead of closing all theaters and sending home all of the personnel, the government should have offered a creative solution by leaving open those event halls and theaters while allowing them to fill up until 30 percent of its capacities.

“The state could then "buy" an additional ticket and a half for each ticket the theater sold. Thus, a theater hall that has a play with 30% occupancy will receive from the state a supplement that will cover an additional 45%, for a total of 75%. They can work with that,” Bennett proposed adding that it would save the state also money because now it pays unemployment benefits to all of these workers.

The Yamina leader then pleaded for giving “vouchers to the unemployed for training in the private market that will allow them to acquire a new profession - in programming, mechanics, agriculture and teaching - each according to their skills and preferences, and return to earning a decent living.”

“Our national DNA has the genes needed to turn any crisis in the present into a springboard to the future. Our natural talent is to take the sticks that are stuck in our wheels, reshape them and use them as springboards,” Bennett continued.

Israel has shown that it can handle severe crisis situations before such as the sudden influx of 1.1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union now almost 30 years ago.

Bennett now wants the Israeli government to use the severe Corona crisis in the US and in European countries to encourage the mass immigration of Jews living there. These people are often highly educated and could contribute much to the state of Israel.

The Yamina leader also pleads for a reduction in government regulations in order to stimulate the large start-up sector in Israel and the same should be done with the education sector, which could partly be transformed into an on-line education system as is happening in some places now.

The last part of Bennett’s plan deals with collective solidarity to help the poor sector of Israeli society.

“MKs, ministers and senior public sector employees who receive a salary or budgetary pension of more than 30,000 shekels a month will contribute 20% of their salary - differentially, with those with higher salaries contributing more - to the state coffers, until the unemployment rate in Israel, drops to pre-crisis levels” wrote Bennett, a multimillionaire, who set the example himself in April when he started to contribute 20 percent of his salary.

The COVID-19 crisis could become a springboard to a better future for all in Israeli society according to Bennett, who concluded his plan with the following words:

“From our ancient roots, we draw the ingenuity, the long-term vision, and the moral and practical ability to turn any challenge into a golden opportunity.”