Naftali Bennett wants you to know he is a man. Really The Man.
Naftali Bennett — leader of the nationalist HaBayit HaYehudi [Jewish Home] party and current Minister of the Economy — kicked off the Israeli election tradition of outlandish and attention grabbing ads this week with a two-minute video clip. In it we see the stereotypical Tel Aviv hipster — he wears flannel! he reads Haaretz! he even has a sweater-clad pug! — in his natural habitat.
A waitress spills coffee on him, a (mysteriously dark-skinned) man rear ends him, a woman steals his bike rental — but he never gets angry. Quite the contrary — he profusely apologizes despite not being at fault. In fact, that is all Mr. Hipster says to everyone he encounters—“Sorry, Sorry.” Finally, he whips off his plastic framed glasses and beard a la Clark Kent to reveal Alpha Male Bennett (complete with chest hair). Bennett promises us that, unlike these Tel Aviv weaklings, he will stop apologizing. Support HaBayit HaYehudi, he tells us, for a Zionism that does not apologize.
The joy in mocking young Tel Avivis aside, Bennett is drawing on Zionist tropes of masculinity to make a larger point in this video. Bennett has always prided himself on his masculinity, really uber-masculinity— what in Israel is called “gever gever.” In his last campaign, he declared himself to be an “ach” — the Israeli bro — and like any good bro, Bennett doesn’t take himself too seriously. In public appearances Bennett is purposely casual, drawing on both anti-formalist Zionist sensibilities and the hoodie and jeans high-tech culture that he knows so well. Bennett is known for his shtick — whether it is breaking out a cucumber at international conferences or courting comparisons between himself and Chuck Norris (who not so incidentally is an outspoken supporter of the Israeli right). Just a few weeks ago, he appeared on the infamously left-wing satirical news show Maztav Hauma (State of the Nation), opening himself up to some good natured political ridicule and displaying his good humored nature, even to those on the other side of the political aisle.
Yet here, he is using his well-honed sense of humor to make a deadly serious point. If you vote HaBayit HaYehudi into office, Naftali Bennett will save Israel from the middle-class sissies of Tel Aviv, who apologize for their very existence. These losers are exactly what Zionism worked so hard to transform—taking weak, pale Diaspora Jews and turning them in strapping muscular Zionist Sabras. But since the peace process of the 1990s, Bennett feels that Israel has lost its way. Without his guidance, the State (and especially the State of Tel Aviv) has become the “friar” who apologizes all the time, thus leading to every Israelis’ worst nightmare —being taken for a sucker. In this short clip, Bennett plays on the fears of non-Tel Avivnikim (and maybe a few residents of the first Hebrew city as well), arguing that Israel’s largest city represents a rotten, cosmopolitan core that has lost its way. But don’t worry too much–just give Bennett the Bro the reins and he will save us all. Bennett will help you be a man and regain Israel’s honor. All you have to do is vote for him.
Yet this Sabra isn’t a kibbutznik — he’s a wealthy ex-high tech mogul, straight from Start-Up Nation by way of Silicon Valley. (Bennett, raised in Israel and born to American parents, made millions in America in software development while living on the Upper East Side.) Nor is Bennett your traditional religious Zionist. Clean shaven and living within the Green Line, Bennett isn’t known for his strict observance of halacha. Rather, he’s a capitalist, anti-ideological super hero for those who want a pragmatic, straight shooting (dugri) Zionism. (One is reminded of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manifesto entitled “No Apologies.”) In Bennett’s eyes, left-wing concerns for human rights, etc, are window dressing, an excuse for a hidden anti-Semitism which has resulted in a false sense of self-destructive Israeli guilt. But according to Bennett, they started it, and it’s time we stopped apologizing. After all, Zionism means never having to say you’re sorry.