On January 28, Naftali Bennett gave a spellbinder of a speech (see video above) at The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) annual conference. Bennett hit all the high points of current Zionist discourse. His oration seamlessly skipped from holocaust commemoration, to biblical archaeology, the centrality of Jerusalem and the temple mount to the Jewish people, Barak’s generous offer, the fear of Palestinian refugees, the rockets from Gaza (we withdrew the settlers, they returned rocket fire), and concluded with thumbing his nose at the international community.
The INSS is very well-connected Israeli think tank, and among the speakers at the 2014 conference were all of the most powerful Israeli public officials. However, Bennett, the current Economy Minister, a newcomer to the Israeli political elite, outshone his more experienced colleagues with his attention- grabbing oratory. His speech positioned Bennett as the standard bearer for a type of hardline Zionism which unlike its mainstream political opposition, does not even pretend that it is willing to make peace with the Palestinians.
Bennett is a rising political star. He is the co-founder and chairperson of the Jewish Home party which opposes a Palestinian state. Bennett, vocally and publicly, also opposes any withdrawal of any settlers and supports continued settlement expansion.
The INSS speech was delivered in the midst of a very public and acrimonious clash with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the declaration of the Office of the Prime Minister that the government may approve Jewish West Bank settlements being under Palestinian sovereignty as a result of a successful peace negotiation. Bennett, in his speech, called the idea “ridiculous.”
Netanyahu, who did not respond to Bennett in his own speech later that evening, eventually issued an ultimatum to Bennett in which he stated that if Bennett did not apologize for attacking him, the Jewish Home party would be forced to leave the coalition. In response, Bennett issued a statement which said that he did not mean to harm the Prime Minister, but told the press shortly afterward he does not retract his criticism.
Netanyahu accepted this non-apology, apparently backing down. The Office of the Prime Minister claimed that the Netanyahu statement about allowing Palestinian sovereignty over Jews was only a political ploy and not to be taken seriously. This is surely true. Bennett probably knew Netanyahu was not serious, but nevertheless seized the opportunity to make political hay.
It is considered unacceptable for a minister in a Parliamentary governing coalition to so directly and repeatedly oppose a position of the Prime Minister. However, in the end, Netanyahu chose to keep Bennett in the government despite the gratuitous insults hurled at him by his Economy Minister. The liberal Zionist press, initially expecting that Bennett would pay a price for his transgressions, mostly mocked him (see cartoon at right) and characterized his clash with the Prime Minister as an error of an inexperienced politician.
Here is a video of Bennett explaining to a BBC interviewer his position on the “peace talks” and his clash with Netanyahu.
However, Bennett is too dangerous to be a joke. He is an ultra-alpha male. Unlike many Israeli politicians, he made a large fortune before, not during or after his time as an elected official. Like Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Yaalon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, he served in the elite commando unit, the Sayeret Matkal, which in a highly militarized society like Israel is a definite political advantage. Bennett is a riveting speaker who has an appeal beyond his modern orthodox religious settler electoral base.
With the ubiquitous “peace process” hitting a very rocky patch, it makes probable Kerry’s name being enshrined with the likes of Rogers, Mitchell, Bush Jr., and Baker, as an American with a plan that failed to bring peace to the region. That being the case, Bennett is poised to gain credibility under the banner of “I told you so.” Some say that Netanyahu actually agrees with Bennett but is afraid to directly challenge the Americans. He will tell the voters he outsmarted the obsessive but plodding U.S. Secretary of State. Bennett will claim he and the far-right wing were the ones who stopped the “Oslo criminals,” which is always a charge that has traction in the Jewish state.
The audience reaction to Bennett’s words varied between silence, light applause and sometimes a modest but more enthusiastic clapping. On a number of occasions an inaudible voice could be heard in the background, maybe hecklers but that is just a guess. The lack of real enthusiasm in the audience in response to Bennett is not surprising. Bennett’s brand of rabble-rousing does not play well with think tankers and many public officials who prefer to keep their rejectionism and firebrand Zionism in check during these public occasions.
Bennett’s real appeal is among voters, and that is reflected in the social media. The youtube video of his INSS speech had 86 likes as opposed to one dislike. And as to the comments, both in Hebrew and in English they are full of praise and admiration. One in Hebrew referred to Bennett as “King of the Jews.”
Here are some of the lowlights of Naftali Bennett’s INSS speech:
Yes, we do need to remember that in a perspective of thousands of years we are only a small dot on the history map of the Jewish people. And we have to realize that immensely precious privilege we have to be the gatekeepers of Jewish history, the guardians of Jerusalem. Ladies and gentlemen, our ancestors and our offspring wouldn’t forgive an Israeli leader who will give away our land and divide our capital.
Demography favors Israel (10:15)
The current Jewish fertility rate is greater than the Palestinian rate in Judea and Samaria. They have 2.91 children per mother, while we already have 3.04. Yes, for the first time, our birthrate is greater than theirs. What can we do? The Israeli population grows at a higher rate than the Palestinian one. In general, the birthrate all over the Arab world is going down, from Iran and in all the Arab countries, to Libya. So get it into your head. The demographic trend is in Israel’s favor.
A new idea arrived a few days ago. Jews would live and remain in their homes, but under Palestinian sovereignty. I repeat: Jews would live and remain in place but under Palestinian sovereignty. So I’ll make it simple for you: It won’t happen. It won’t happen and it can’t happen.
Do you know why Jews cannot live under Palestinian sovereignty? Why can’t Palestinians govern Israelis? Because they will kill them. How do I know that? How do I know? Because it has already happened.
In Hebron, the Jews used to live peacefully with their Arab neighbors and then, one day in 1929, one morning the neighbors came and killed them. Just like that, the same neighbors. They entered the Beit Midrash of the Hebron Yeshiva and killed Shmuel Rosenholtz, a student at the Yeshiva. They attacked the Jews’ houses, broke into the house of the Abu-Shadid family, killed Eliyahu, and stabbed to death two other men. Women and children were stabbed and severely injured.
The Rabbi, Hanoch Hason, head of the Sephardic community, was murdered with his wife. Benzion Gershon, the pharmacist at Beit Hadassa, who helped Jews and Arabs alike was tortured to death after his daughter was raped before his very eyes by dozens of rioters. His wife’s hands were amputated and she died in agony. The baker, Noah Himmerman, was burned to death when the Arabs forced him into an oven.
But this happened once. Maybe it won’t happen again? Seventy years have passed and nothing has changed. In 2000, two reserve soldiers got lost, Vadim Norich and Yossi Avrahami and entered Ramallah by accident. They were brought to the police station of the Palestinian Authority and went through a horrible “lynch.” Their bodies were thrown out of the window. They were cruelly tortured and were dragged through the streets of Ramallah. It didn’t happen 70 years ago. Every one of us remembers this event. Every one of us remembers where he was at the time. When Avrahami’s wife called his mobile phone, one of his murderers mocked her in reply: “I’ve just slaughtered your husband a few minutes ago.”
Gentlemen, if an Arab citizen were to enter Herzliya, he would leave the city alive and well, and justly so. If a Jew were to enter Jenin by mistake, he would be murdered. It’s not too complicated. It’s simple and everyone sitting here knows it.
So why is it impossible for the Palestinians to govern Jews? Because they will kill them.
The reaction of the world to his autonomy plan for the Palestinians (30:30)
The world will not acknowledge it, but I have news for you: The world doesn’t acknowledge the Western Wall either as an Israeli place, just as it doesn’t acknowledge the Mount of Olives, the City of David and the Golan Heights, as well as Latrun. So we’ll have a few more places without the world’s recognition. International pressure is nothing new. This state couldn’t have been established if we had surrendered to international pressure. We would not have established this state. Read the history books. In March 1948, the Americans regretted and withdrew their support for the State of Israel. And you know why? What happened in March 1948? It was a horrible month of war. The convoys weren’t able to enter the gates of Hulda or Neve Daniel. I think it was on March 26th, because the world has respect for power. Not kindness, not surrender; power. If we are strong, the world will respect us, and if we are weak, I’ve seen what happens to us lately when we are weak.