Bennett, Netanyahu
Bennett, NetanyahuFlash 90

Benjamin Netanyahu might be tempted to sign a plea bargain in the alleged corruption charges piled up against him, that would allow him to retire from politics without the threat of incarceration. Such a threat has been shadowing him for years. He might be tired of fighting it.

Netanyahu has failed to form an effective coalition in the four recent elections, between April 2019 and March 2021. In June 2021, Naftali Bennett replaced him as prime minister. After failing so many times in the past, there seems little chance of Netanyahu succeeding now.

Should Netanyahu stay in politics, he will likely remain as the leader of the opposition, or worse, be voted out of the Likud leadership. Stepping down and enjoying a peaceful retirement might be preferable to him.

Either way, the day will come when Israelis will no longer look to Netanyahu for leadership. He has led the country for 15 years. While still energetic and relatively young (at 72), he does not seem to offer anything new or better than the two years of political deadlock still fresh in our minds.

Naftali Bennett

Bennett pulled a political heist in June 2021, when he became the prime minister with only 6% of the vote. His Yamina (“Rightwards”) party formed a coalition with Israel’s radical left and Arab Islamists, along with left, center, anti-religious, and secular right-wing parties. Bennett himself is liberal Modern Orthodox, identifying with the Religious Zionist camp.

Bennett is the first religious prime minister of Israel, a fact most people seem to overlook because of what he did to get in power, and because of what he does in power. He glues a small kippa to the back of his head and also keeps Shabbat and a kosher diet. He is the closest Israel has gotten to an observant Jewish leadership, but some of his partners in power are the opposite.

The question is what Bennett would be like if he had different coalition partners? If he could replace some of the least fitting parties he currently relies upon, with the Likud, for example, might we then see a different Bennett? Would we see a more loyal Jewish side to him?

Bennett has a bit of both in him, the religious and the secular. His parents were secular Jews from San Francisco, who only started to become religious after going through life-changing ordeals. They were Berkeley students in the ‘60s, then Bennett’s father, Jim, joined the peace corps. After the Six-Day War, they made Aliyah.

Three sons were born to them in Haifa, including their youngest, Naftali, in 1972, but then they returned to San Francisco in 1973. The Yom Kippur War brought them back to Haifa when Jim returned to fight in the war, but then Jim was sent to work in Canada, so they relocated to Montreal.

In Montreal, the Bennetts enrolled their children in Jewish schools. School friends would come over to visit them, so the Bennetts kept a kosher kitchen for them at home. With time the Bennetts began to attend synagogue as well and to learn more about Judaism.

Two years later, work brought them to New York, where the Bennetts lived among religious Jews. This strengthened them much more in their religious observance. Back in Haifa again, Naftali attended a coed state-religious (Mamlachti Dati) elementary school, switching to a yeshiva high for secondary school. His parents also raised him to be a right-wing Zionist, a far cry from their Berkeley years.

Naftali Bennett joined an elite army unit, Sayeret Matkal, and then commanded a company in another elite unit, Maglan. He also took off his kippa in the process and married a secular woman, Gilat. The kippa came back on with time, and his wife became more observant, but even now, his religious observance seems to be more of a personal matter to him and not the guiding force in his leadership.

What good is a kippa-clad prime minister to us, if he will not lead Israel to observe God’s Commandments? In fact, Bennett has intentionally positioned himself politically as right-wing, as opposed to religious, hoping to attract secular and Reform Jews to his political camp, as an open and religiously tolerant leader.

A God-fearing Jewish leader should rightfully love all Jews and seek to help them, but God should be on the top of the list for him, the fear of God superseding all other fears. This means that he will fight for God’s Laws in the government. It also means that he will fear compromising on them for the sake of political gain or public favor. Bennett does not seem to be like this.

Bennett is not a popular leader and there is little chance of him competing with the secular parties for their votes. Instead, he maneuvered himself into a position of power by displaying a willingness to compromise on his stated values and to work with anyone receptive to him. He seems to be the compromise leader because not compromising would lead to his ousting.

Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid is the “Alternate Prime Minister of Israel.” If all goes according to the ruling coalition’s plan, he should be the premier in August 2023, replacing Bennett in a rotation government. Such a scenario is highly unlikely, particularly if Netanyahu takes a long break from politics.

The ruling coalition is composed of highly mismatched parties that agreed to work together towards one main goal of ousting Netanyahu. If Netanyahu retires from political life, they should no longer have a reason to work together.

Lapid is a talented and well-connected man, but he is unlikely to become the prime minister. He dropped out of high school without completing his matriculation exams, and then was pulled out of the 1982 Lebanon War for suffering an asthma attack.

Yair Lapid is the son of Tommy Lapid, and he followed closely in his father’s footsteps. He became a journalist like his father, then leveraged his fame to enter politics, pursuing what is perceived to be an anti-religious and anti-Orthodox agenda.

Lapid tries to avoid such classifications, arguing that he attends (Reform) synagogue and recognizes all streams of Judaism, but his nationalist approach is one of secular Zionism and forced inclusion. He expects the Orthodox to serve the secular state in Israel the way they are required to serve the secular state in America.

This view is unacceptable to many traditional Jews, who think of Israel as a Jewish state, as opposed to a secular state with Jewish residents. They expect more from the government of Israel than they do from foreign governments of the Diaspora. Lapid seems to think he is leading Jews of the Diaspora, and as such, he should not be the leader of Israel.

Nir Barkat

Nir Barkat is poised to take the Likud leadership in Netanyahu’s absence, and the Likud party is predicted to succeed under his leadership, coming well ahead of Lapid’s Yesh Atid in the polls. As a new hope, backed by the successes of his past, Barkat should be able to reach out to other parties and form a governing coalition under his premiership.

This assumes that Netanyahu will in fact exit politics, Barkat will be chosen to head the Likud, and the current government will collapse, leading to new elections, all hypotheticals at this stage, but highly plausible ones.

Barkat served in the army as a paratrooper, reaching the rank of major, and receiving his war scars in Lebanon. He went on to succeed dramatically in business, reaching a net worth of over $100 million. Then he entered local politics, eventually becoming the mayor of Jerusalem, and serving in that role for 10 years.

Barkat has since joined the Likud party, serving loyally under Netanyahu. He is currently a Likud MK, the seventh on the party list, serving in the opposition. This might not sound very promising, but under the long shadows Netanyahu casts over those around him, Barkat has managed to stand out in a positive light.

Barkat is a wise tactician and a fluent speaker, including in English. When given the spotlight, he knows how to shine, and he has a good track record and finances to back him. He appears to be conservative enough in his views, or is at least good enough at avoiding controversy, and has the business acumen that could be useful to the economy.

That said, Barkat remains a secular leader, among secular leaders. I fail to see what great benefit he can bring to the table. His leadership is untested in national and international politics, and there are a lot of unknowns about him.

Someone Else

Someone else can and should steal the show from the above leaders. Israel does not need another secular leader with more secular ideas. What Israel needs at this advanced stage of its development, is not a repeat of the mistakes of its past, the same mistakes that led to our longest and darkest exile, but to finally learn its lesson and correct its path.

Israel needs a leader who can lead us back to our roots, to be an Israel in truth, and not another imposter. Israel needs a God-fearing leader, one who will remain loyal to God against internal and external pressures, and against all odds. A leader who will fear God more than he fears people, because God is all the more Fearsome to him.

Israel needs a leader who is accepting enough to gain the respect of the people, but who can also lead them to fear God like him, rather than roll around in the mud with them chasing their fears. The people are afraid of the Arabs, the Europeans, the Iranians, and the Americans, and they blame the Orthodox, or the Zionists, or the religious, or the irreligious for all their problems, but they seem oblivious to God because they lack knowledge of Him.

Israel needs a leader who will help reintroduce us to the God of Israel.

Yshai Amichai is a father of six and an author with a legal education, whose books advocate upholding the Torah as a national Constitution. He may be contacted at: [email protected]