Naftali Bennett Is Face of Israel's New Right Wing

High-Tech Mogul Turned Around Religious Zionist Party

The Right Look: Naftali Bennett looks more like a high-tech millionaire than a hard-right Israeli politician. And that’s the point.
getty images
The Right Look: Naftali Bennett looks more like a high-tech millionaire than a hard-right Israeli politician. And that’s the point.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published January 14, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In 2010, the Forward profiled Naftali Bennett, who has emerged as the biggest surprise of the current Israeli election campaign. He was a man with a vision — but also with a problem.

The pro-settlement politician was starting to appeal to the hearts and minds of his constituency, but plenty of would-be followers had trouble taking him seriously.

Daniella Weiss, former mayor of Kedumim in the West Bank and an icon of hard-line settlers, spoke for many at the time when she said she regarded him as an “outsider.” Bennett was at the time CEO of the Yesha Council, the main settler umbrella organization, and Weiss said that he wasn’t qualified for the job.

Bennett, now leader of the Jewish Home Party, which is expected to place third in the January 22 elections, is a self-described “moderate Orthodox,” and his wife is secular. He grew up in Haifa and lives in affluent Ra’anana — both of them far from the territories. Yet he has managed to unite the previously fragmented Religious Zionist camp, something that prestigious rabbis failed to do ahead of the last election.

The story of Jewish Home’s rise under Bennett is the story of a major change in the nature of Religious Zionist politics. After near obliteration in the 2009 election, the faction — until that year it was known as the National Religious Party — realized that it had to modernize or die, and that the expectation that it would receive the Religious Zionist community’s votes out of a sense of loyalty was outdated.

A relatively closed clique ran the party: leaders were not elected but chosen and while there was some reform in 2008 and 2009, it was limited. This campaign season began, for the first time, with primaries, allowing Bennett, a previously unknown quantity in Jewish Home, to convince members to entrust the party to him. “Everything that happened now is what we wanted four years ago,” revealed Asher Cohen, who was a member of Jewish Home’s public committee in 2009.

Cohen was talking about not only elections, but also what they brought about — a young energetic leader who won back many Religious Zionists who had started voting for larger parties, and one who made the strategic move of including a secular candidate, Ayelet Shaked, and securing nonreligious votes.

Former NRP head Yitzhak Levy, who represented the party in the Knesset for two decades, said that he has watched the recent surge in popularity with amazement, admitting, “Bennett succeeded where we couldn’t, by bringing a lot of non-Orthodox yet traditional people to the party.”

But beyond the democratization of the party and Bennett’s innovations, there is a deeper story of Religious Zionist identity at play.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.