Middle East

Naftali Bennett, the billionaire and extremist disciple who has to unseat Netanyahu

The leader of the settlers has to be Prime Minister with only 7 deputies

2 min
Naftali Bennett, yesterday in the Israeli parliament

BarcelonaNaftali Bennett, 49, has found the support of the seven deputies of his party Yamina (translated as "rightwards" in Hebrew) in the government that toppled Netanyahu. In the coming weeks, if there are no last minute developments, he will become Israel's Prime Minister, and he will be the first to bring a Kippah. Linked to Orthodox Jewish nationalism, which advocates for the expansion of Israel on theological grounds, this leader of the Israeli right is a billionaire who has emerged as a key political figure. He advocates for the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank and claims that creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel's borders would be a "suicide".

"I have killed many Arabs and there is no problem"

Like all relevant Israeli politicians, he has military experience, although not very successful. In 1996 he commanded a unit in a 16-day campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon and asked for air cover to withdraw, in an operation that ended with one hundred Lebanese civilians being killed. In 2013 he proclaimed: "I have killed many Arabs in my life and there is no problem", and in 2018 he threatened to bomb Lebanon back to the "Stone Age".

Bennett's life is very different from that of the settlers who illegally occupy the West Bank. The son of immigrants from San Francisco, he made a fortune in New York with his technology start-up, which developed an anti-fraud software. His wife, a secularist, is a chef and they have four children. He studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Unlike his former allies on the religious right, he has been a supporter of LGTBI rights and has stood up to the weight of the rabbis within the state.

Ex-boss of Netanyahu's Cabinet

After leaving the technology business, he returned to Israel and began his political career in 2006 as head of Netanyahu's cabinet, who was his mentor and who has always reproached him for having abandoned him. This experience helped him rise and gain the leadership of the Jewish Home party, an Orthodox movement that was the main political representative of the settlers. He also led the Yesha Council, a settlement platform in the occupied West Bank that represents the settlers. He later served as Minister of Defense, Education and Economy under several Netanyahu-led governments.

Bennett is paying dearly for having rejected the proposals to re-establish the right-wing government with Netanyahu: in addition to having lost a deputy, his supporters have demonstrated outside his house and he has even received death threats that have forced him to have a security escort surrounding him.