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and that the expectation that it would receive the Religious Zionist community’s votes out of a sense of loyalty was outdated.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!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • 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.