Jerusalem, Unidentifed: Naftali Bennett, a multi-millionaire former computer entrepreneur who built a name for himself in politics by using harsh religious-nationalist rhetoric, could be the next Prime Minister of Israel.
On Wednesday, opposition leader Yair Lapid announced that he had succeeded in forging a coalition to overthrow veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with Bennett serving as interim Prime Minister for two years before Lapid takes over.
Bennett may depose Netanyahu, his erstwhile ally and mentor if the alliance is recognized by Israel’s 120-member parliament.
Bennett, a former defense minister, and special forces commando is the leader of the Yamina party, which has advocated for Israel to annex sections of the occupied West Bank.
He is an ultra-liberal on the economy and takes a harsh position against Israel’s arch-foe, Iran. He is the son of US-born parents and speaks great American English.
He supports Netanyahu’s philosophy and has served in several of the Likud leader’s administrations.
However, in recent years, the two have become increasingly antagonistic.
Bennett ultimately agreed to join centrist Lapid in an alliance to topple Netanyahu following 11 days of deadly warfare with Palestinian terrorists in Gaza last month.
Bennett lives in Raanana’s major city with his wife Galit and four children.
After selling his digital start-up for $145 million in 2005, he went into politics and became Netanyahu’s chief of staff the following year.
Bennett became the president of the Yesha Council, which advocates for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, after leaving Netanyahu’s administration in 2010.
He then stormed into politics in 2012, taking over the hard-right Jewish Home party, which was on the verge of extinction.
While making headlines with a series of provocative remarks regarding Palestinians, he quadrupled the party’s parliamentary presence.
In 2013, he stated that “terrorists should be executed, not released” by Palestinians.
He also argued that the West Bank was 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, like a piece of “shrapnel in the buttocks”.
Bennett served as Netanyahu’s finance and education minister in addition to his defensive position.
Before forming the Yamina (“Rightward”) bloc in 2018, he rebranded Jewish Home as the “New Right,” and was a member of Netanyahu’s coalition that collapsed the same year.
In May of last year, however, he was not invited to join a unity government, a decision widely interpreted as evidence of Netanyahu’s personal dislike for him.
Bennett toned down his right-wing rhetoric in 2020, when he was in opposition and the coronavirus outbreak was raging, to focus on the health issue. He broadened his appeal by announcing efforts to restrict Covid-19 while also assisting the economy.
Bennett has been accused of forsaking his nationalist constituents by forming a coalition government with the dovish Meretz party and the Arab Israeli Islamic conservative party Raam.
Bennett, on the other hand, said he was on a mission to restore Israel’s administration and avert the country’s fifth election in less than two years.
He alluded to ancient Jewish history in his speech announcing his decision to join forces with Lapid.
“Two thousand years ago, there was a Jewish state which fell here because of internal quarrels,” he said. “This will not happen again. Not on my watch.”