Who is Naftali Bennett: Biography, Career, Personal Life of Israel’s Potential Prime Minister?
|Photo: Getty Images|
Who is Naftali Bennett, who could replace Netanyahu as Israel’s Prime Minister?
Amid a complex political tussle, Netanyahu's ally Naftali Bennett officially parted ways with Israel's current leader and announced his bid to become the country's Prime Minister.
Naftali Bennett, who on Sunday moved a step closer to replacing Israel’s veteran premier Benjamin Netanyahu, is a millionaire former tech entrepreneur who made a name in politics with hardline right-wing rhetoric.
The 49-year-old, who has made pitches to hard-right voters throughout his career, leads the Yamina party, which has called for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.
With a discreet kippa and perfect American English, he is ultra-liberal on the economy and takes a hard line against Iran.
Naftali Bennet: Biography
|Photo: Getty Images|
Naftali Bennett was born in Haifa, Israel, on 25 March 1972.
He is the youngest of three sons born to Jim and Myrna (Lefko) Bennett, American Jewish immigrants who moved to Israel from San Francisco in 1967, a month after the Six-Day War. His father's Jewish roots come from Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands. His maternal grandparents moved to San Francisco from Poland 20 years before the outbreak of World War II, and relocated to Israel as seniors, settling on Vitkin Street in Haifa.
Through his paternal grandmother, Bennett is a descendant of the Rappaport rabbinic family and of the Medieval Biblical commentator Rashi. Some of his mother's other family members who remained in Poland were murdered in the Holocaust. Both of Bennett's parents observed Modern Orthodox Judaism. After moving to Israel, they volunteered for a few months at kibbutz Dafna, where they studied the Hebrew language, then settled in the Ahuza neighborhood of Haifa. Jim Bennett was a successful real estate broker turned real estate entrepreneur. Myrna Bennett was the deputy director general of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel's northern program.
In the summer of 1973, when Bennett was one, the family returned to San Francisco at the urging of his mother. With the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, Jim Bennett returned to Israel to fight in the Israel Defense Forces, serving in an artillery unit on the Golan Heights front. Following the war, the rest of the family returned to Israel at his request as he was held in reserve duty for months after the war. Bennett's parents ultimately decided to stay permanently in Israel.
When Bennett was four, the family moved to Montreal for two years as part of his father's job. Upon returning to Haifa, Bennett began attending Carmel elementary school. When he was in second grade, the family moved to New Jersey for two years, again as part of his father's job. The family returned to Haifa when Bennett was ten.
Bennett has two brothers. One, Asher, is a businessman now based in the United Kingdom. The other, Daniel, is an accountant for Zim Integrated Shipping Services.
Naftali Bennett attended Yavne Yeshiva High School in Haifa, and became a youth leader ("Madrich") with the religious Zionist youth organization Bnei Akiva.
Naftali Bennet: Career
|Photo: The Time of Israel|
Bennett was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces in 1990. He served in the Sayeret Matkal and Maglan commando units as a company commander; he continues to serve in the reserves today with the rank of major. Bennett served in the Israeli security zone in Lebanon during the 1982–2000 South Lebanon conflict. He took part in many operations, including Operation Grapes of Wrath. After his IDF service, Bennett received a law degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During the 2006 Lebanon War he was called up as a reservist in the Maglan special forces unit and participated in a search and destroy mission behind enemy lines, operating against Hezbollah rocket launchers.
Bennett moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to build a career as a software entrepreneur. In 1999 he co-founded Cyota, an anti-fraud software company, and served as its CEO. The company was sold in 2005 to RSA Security for $145 million, making Bennett a multimillionaire. A stipulation of the deal allowed the Israeli arm of Cyota to remain intact. As a result, 400 Israelis are employed at the company's Israeli offices in Beersheba and Herzliya.
Bennett has also served as the CEO of Soluto, a technology company providing cloud-based service that enables remote support for personal computers and mobile devices in 2009, at a time when he and partner Lior Golan were engaged in raising funds for myriad Israeli technology startup companies. Soluto had hitherto raised $20 million from investors, including venture capital funds Giza Venture Capital, Proxima Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Index Ventures, Michael Arrington's CrunchFund, Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors and Initial Capital. The sale of Soluto for a reported $100–130 million to the American company Asurion was finalized in October 2013.
From 2006 to 2008, Bennett served as Benjamin Netanyahu's Chief of Staff. In 2010, he was chosen to be the Director General of the Yesha Council and worked against a settlement freeze.
In April 2012, Bennett broke away from the Likud Party and joined The Jewish Home (Habayit Hayehudi, in Hebrew). In the January 2013 Knesset elections, Bennett's party won 12 seats in the parliament, making it the fifth largest party in the legislature. In March 2013, Bennett and Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid Party, joined forces with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition government. Bennett was rewarded with the position of Minister of Economy and Trade. He was also appointed Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.
Bennett was appointed Minister of Education, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs following the election in March 2015. Netanyahu split the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, initially taking back the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio for himself. In October 2015, Bennett resigned from the Knesset to allow Shuli Mualem take his seat. His resignation took place under the Norwegian Law, which allowed ministers to resign their seats when in the cabinet but return to the Knesset if they leave the government. He returned to the Knesset in December 2015 after Avi Wortzman opted to vacate his seat.
In December 2018, Bennett was among the Jewish Home MKs to leave the party and form the breakaway New Right Party.
In the 2019 Knesset elections, New Right narrowly failed to cross the electoral threshold; as a result, Bennett did not gain a seat in the 21st Knesset. In June 2019, Netanyahu dismissed Bennett from the government. His party made a comeback, winning seven seats in the September 2019 elections and, in November, the prime minister appointed Bennett Minister of Defense.
Netanyahu pressured Bennett to form a union with the far right parties to increase the chance they would exceed the electoral threshold in the election for the 23rd Knesset in March 2020. Bennett, however, decided to run a joint slate – Yamina – with his Hayamin Hehadash Party and the National Union Party. The United Right as they were also called won six seats.
In the 2021 election, Bennett’s Yamina Party won seven seats, but due to the split between the pro- and anti-Netanyahu factions, he was viewed as the kingmaker. While his natural allies are on the right, his opposition to Netanyahu, with whom he was once close before having a falling out, led him to reject an offer to join a coalition where he would become prime minister for two years and Netanyahu for two. When Netanyahu failed to form a coalition and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid was given the mandate to form a government, Bennett said he wanted to be part of a broad coalition and there was talk of another rotation agreement, this time with Bennett and Lapid taking turns as prime minister.
|Photo: The Time of Israel|
Bennett is the author of the Bennett Plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The plan involves three divisions of the West Bank. Israel would annex Area C, while the Palestinian Authority would retain control over Areas A and B while working in concert with Israel’s security forces to ensure peace. Gaza would be ruled by Egypt. Bennett does not support the creation of a Palestinian state.
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Naftali Bennet: Personal Life
Bennett's wife, Gilat, was secular, but now observes the Jewish Sabbath and religious Jewish kosher laws regarding food. She is a professional pastry chef. The couple have four children, and live in Ra'anana, a city 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Tel Aviv. Like his brothers, Bennett observes Modern Orthodox Judaism.
|Naftali Bennett, who on Sunday moved a step closer to replacing Israel's veteran premier Benjamin Netanyahu, is a multi-millionaire former tech entrepreneur who made his name in politics with hardline religious-nationalist rhetoric. |
The 49-year-old, who has made pitches to hard-right voters throughout his career, leads the Yamina party, which has called for Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
A bald politician with a discreet kippa and perfect American English, he is ultra-liberal on the economy and takes a hard line against Israel's arch-enemy, Iran.
He shares this ideology with Mr Netanyahu and has served in several of the Likud leader's governments, but in recent years the two have become increasingly opposed.
In the aftermath of 11 days of deadly fighting with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, Mr Bennett finally agreed to join centrist Yair Lapid in a coalition to oust the prime minister, who has been in power for 12 consecutive years as well as an earlier three-year term.
Mr Lapid has offered to share power, letting Mr Bennett serve the first term in a rotating premiership.
In a speech late on Sunday, Mr Bennett claimed leftist parties would back him to lead a coalition government.
"The left is making far from easy compromises here, when it bestows upon me... the role of prime minister," he said.
Mr Lapid has until late on Wednesday to cobble together a 61-seat coalition in the 120-seat Knesset.
Religious-nationalist Yamina won seven seats in the country's last general elections in March, although one member has refused to join an anti-Netanyahu coalition.
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