Israel

01.17.13

The Rise of Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennett, head of the Israeli hardline national religious party, Jewish Home, gestures during the first high-tech conference for Israel's Haredi Sector, on January 15, 2013, in Jerusalem. GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images ()

If you are interested in the rise of Naftali Bennett, Tablet magazine offers a much more insightful profile than that delivered by David Remnick in the New Yorker.

Bennett was willing to gamble that the tides were turning, that there were enough secular Israelis who found his faith and convictions much more appealing than anything else on offer this election year. These, more than his natural constituency of yarmulke-wearing voters, were the people Bennett’s campaign was trying to court.

His first step was releasing a detailed plan for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Called “the Plan for Calm,” it argued that Israel should focus not on ending the conflict, which was impossible, but by taking steps to produce conditions that were favorable and conducive to curbing Palestinian violence. Israel, the Plan for Calm argued, should annex large swaths of the West Bank, awarding citizenship to the area’s approximately 50,000 Palestinians and allowing the Israeli security services a wider base of operations against terrorism. Bennett’s political rivals, like the newcomer centrist Yair Lapid, called the plan “un-Zionist.” The leftist Peace Now lobby referred to it as hallucinatory. But the Israeli public seemed to love it. As of this writing, polls are predicting that Bennett and his party could win as many as 16 seats, making Habayit Hayehudi, possibly, the second-largest party in Israel.

It's also worth noting that this so-called religious fundamentalist is a strong advocate of gay rights.