For the first time in decades, the so-called “Anglo” vote may make a difference in the next Israeli elections on March 23 — as party leader after party leader line up to woo the English-speaking Israeli in a series of town hall meetings and interviews.
The latest to flourish his Anglo credentials is the Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, whose parents were “secular liberals” from San Francisco and Berkeley, California.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post’s Maayan Hoffman this week, Bennett said that in the 1960s, his father had taken part in civil rights demonstrations in the US — “he was arrested in a sit-in in a hotel that wouldn’t hire black people. I’m darn proud of him. Civil rights and human rights don’t belong entirely to the left”.
Bennett, who was born in Haifa after his parents made aliya in 1967, shuttled back and forth between Israel and north America as a child — but his most influential time in the US came after his army service, in 1999, when he moved to Manhattan to launch a software company.
It made him a fortune — Bennett is widely referred to as a multi-millionaire — and provided a handy financial cushion when he entered the political arena in 2005, serving as Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff. He finally entered the Knesset in 2013, a move which required giving up his American citizenship.
Bennett’s relations with Prime Minister Netanyahu have fluctuated wildly over the years, from close “consigliere” to sworn enemy, and have included stints as Minister of the Economy, of Diaspora Affairs, as Education Minister and most recently as Defence Minister.
All of this means that Bennett, who will turn 49 two days after this year’s elections, has a shrewd idea of what messages will work with the Israeli public. While he won’t rule out the idea of serving with Netanyahu again, he prefers to be seen as ambitious for the top job of Prime Minister himself. He told Maayan Hoffman that he thinks Netanyahu is “afraid” of him and believes he has all the necessary qualifications to serve as Prime Minister. In an interview two weeks ago with i24 television, he declared: “If [Netanyahu] were chief executive of a company he would have been fired by now”. He has attacked Netanyahu’s “competence”, particularly over the Corona crisis, and believes that it is time for Israel to say goodbye to the Prime Minister after 32 years in politics.
In the meantime Bennett, who presents as modern Orthodox and is never seen without a precariously balanced knitted kippah on his closely shaved skull, has big plans. He is ready, he says, “to cut the Gordian knot” when it comes to the strictly Orthodox population. He wants to tell Charedi men at the age of 21 that they are free to do what they want, and exempt from army service for between eight to 10 years.
“Some will stay in yeshiva; but the vast majority will go and get a job, in programming, software, engineering, instead of working in the black economy. They will start paying taxes and stop being a burden. Five years later they will start sending their kids to learn a bit more maths. And five years after that they will send their kids to the army, because they will feel that it doesn’t make sense. Instead of being populist, give them an army exemption, and they are going to flock to get good jobs and pay taxes”.
Bennett deplores the “dirty tricks” which have taken place in recent election campaigns, particularly personal attacks on him and his family. “Netanyahu has attacked my wife [a noted pastry chef] and my son, who is very handsome and who is big on TikTok in Israel. Gidon Sa’ar [Bennett’s main rival for new leader of the right-wing bloc] has been involved in illegal political attacks against me, and has now offered a truce.
“But I have plans. I have plans on Covid, on the economy, on education, on getting jobs. I hope people will realise that what Israel needs now is not recycled politicians but doers, entrepreneurs, people who get things done — and who will work for them and care”.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.