Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid informed the country’s president 02 June 2021 that he can form a coalition government, a move that would bring an end to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12 years in power. "I am honored to inform you that I have managed to form a government. The government will be a rotation government, in accordance with clause 13a in the Basic Law on the Government. I will lead it with MK Naftali Bennett who will be the first to serve as prime minister," Lapid said. Under the coalition agreement, Bennett and Lapid would rotate the role of prime minister, with Bennett taking up the post for the first two years and Lapid the final two.
Naftali Bennett is a multi-millionaire former tech entrepreneur who made a name in politics with right-wing, religious-nationalist rhetoric. He has courted controversy on several occasions, once stating that the West Bank is not under occupation because “there was never a Palestinian state here”, and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be resolved but must be endured.
He made pitches to far-right voters throughout his career, leads the Yamina party, which has called for Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. A firebrand politician who has not shied away from controversy, Bennett is ultra-liberal on the economy and takes an aggressive line against Iran. He shared this ideology with Netanyahu and has served in several of the Likud leader’s governments. In recent years, however, the two became increasingly opposed.
Bennett's Yamina party commands only seven seats out of 120-member Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Out of seven, six members support his bid to join the anti-Netanyahu political league. “It would be unprecedented in Israeli politics (or any politics for that matter) when the head of a party with only 6 seats out of 120 (5 percent of Knesset members) would become prime minister. This fact only solidifies the notion that Israeli politics have become dysfunctional and fractured,” Sami al Arian, a prominent Palestinian-American academic told TRT World.
While the Israeli right-wing parties accumulated over 70 seats in the 120-member Knesset, they failed to form a stable government after four inconclusive elections in two years. “Of course there are many causes for that. But the main reason is Netanyahu,” Arian says. Because he is such a 'polarizing, deceptive, and manipulative' politician, many of his former partners on the right and extreme right like Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Sa'er and Bennett "hate him so much that they are willing to work with other parties, which they disagree with on most issues just so they could get rid of him,”
“He [Bennett] demonstrated a rare ability – unprecedented in Israel’s political history – to exploit opportunities and leverage his political power, managing to leap from the status of a loser who didn’t even win enough votes to enter the Knesset in 2019 to almost being prime minister,” wrote Aluf Benn, a columnist at Haaretz.
"Bennett, will not help to improve Israel's image. He's a right-wing, pro-settler ideologue who believes in Jewish supremacy and the denial of equal rights for Palestinians,” according to Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist and author, who was based in East Jerusalem from 2016 to 2020. “Bennett will continue Israel's right-wing drift towards an even more militarised and racist nation-state," Loewenstein tells TRT World. A former special forces commando, Bennett lives with his wife Galit and four children in the central city of Raanana. Naftali Bennett was born in 1972 to American parents. He grew up in Haifa, and studied at the 'Yavneh' Yeshiva High School in Haifa. In the army, Major (res.) Bennett served in Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit) and as a squad commander and company commander in the Maglan unit. Bennett performs his reserve duty in Sayeret Matkal. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In 1999 Bennett co-founded the high-tech company Cyota, which specializes in online information security. The company employs some 400 workers, and in 2005 it was sold to an American company for $145 million. Bennett also served as the CEO of Soluto, which was sold for some $100 million.
In 2005 Bennett was appointed the chief of staff of then-Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. In this capacity, he helped formulate Netanyahu's education reform plan. Bennett also ran Netanyahu's campaign ahead of the primary elections for the leadership of Likud, which Netanyahu won.
In 2009, Bennett was appointed director general of the Yesha Council and led the fight to cancel the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria and to reinforce the settlement enterprise. At the same time, Bennett, along with Ayelet Shaked, founded the My Israel movement, which fought delegitimaization of Israel, post-Zionist organizations and boycotts of Israel. For its activity, the movement won the 2012 Media Criticism Award.
In 2012, Forbes Magazine placed Bennett on its list of former members of Israeli commando units who succeeded in the business world. In the same year, his book 'Exit', which assists hi-tech entrepreneurs in Israel, was released. Bennett is one of Israel's leading spokespersons and regularly presents the country's positions in the foreign media.
In November 2012 Bennett was elected chairman of Habayit Hayehudi – National Religious Party, and during the elections for the 19th Knesset (in 2013) he led his party to a historic achievement – 12 seats in the Knesset. With the formation of the government, Bennett was appointed Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs. He was also member of the Political-Security Cabinet and chaired the Cabinet of Ministers to Lower the Cost of Living.
In the elections for the 20th Knesset (in 2015), Habayit Hayehudi chaired by Bennett won eight seats in the Knesset. Bennett was elected the Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs in the 34th government. In 2015 Bennett began his tenure as Minister of Education and implemented the 'Small Class' reform, which reduced the number of students in a classroom. He also carried out the 'Second Assistant' reform, in which 4,600 assistants were recruited to kindergartens for children aged 3-4, in order to provide children with more personal and warm treatment, as well as better education.
Minister Bennett spearheaded the national plan for strengthening mathematics and science studies, which was initiated by his office due to a deep crisis caused by a decline in the achievements of Israeli pupils in these subjects over the course of a decade. The trend has been shifting, and Israel is on its way to its proper position in this field – a world leader. Upon entering the Ministry of Education, Bennett placed education for values at the top of his priorities. In the spirit of this decision, budgets were increased for youth movements, youth organizations and pre-army training programs.
In opposition and with the coronavirus pandemic raging in 2020, Bennett dampened his right-wing rhetoric to focus on the health crisis, moving to broaden his appeal by releasing plans to contain the virus and aid the economy.
By a vote of 60 to 59, with one abstention, the Knesset Plenum on 14 June 2021 confirmed the 36th Government of Israel headed by Prime Minister MK Naftali Bennett, who said: “This is a special hour, an hour in which the burden of leading the people and the state is passed on to the next generation as if in a relay race. Each generation has its own challenges, and each generation produces the leaders from its midst that can overcome them. The external challenges that face us are great: The Iranian nuclear challenge that has advanced toward a critical point, the ongoing war on terrorism, Israel's image around the world and the unfair treatment it receives in international institutions—all these are great and complex tasks.
“At this time, we also face an internal challenge. The ongoing rift in the people—as manifested in these very minutes—this rift has unraveled the threads that hold us together, and cast us, one round of elections after another, into a whirlwind of hatred and fighting among brothers. These quarrels, among people who were supposed to be running the country, led to its paralysis, just like in these very minutes. And so, Israel stopped being managed.
“There are points in Jewish history in which controversy spins out of control; it is no longer for the sake of heaven, and it threatens us and everything we have built with blood and toil. Twice in our history we lost our national home, precisely because the leaders of that generation did not know how to sit down with each other and compromise. Yes, yes, with people who were different [from them]. They were so much in the right that they burned down our house upon us. I am proud of the ability to sit together with people who have very different opinions. This time, at the crucial moment, we took responsibility..."
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