An ever increasing number of Israelis are showing support for Naftali Bennett and his Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party. While Bennett’s party presently only has three seats in the Knesset, polls indicate that the party could end up with any where between 13 to 18 seats in the upcoming Knesset, becoming the third or even the second largest political party in Israel. Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi party are especially popular among young Israelis; his party leads all others for Israelis under the age of 30. Yet the question remains, why does Naftali Bennett’s message resonate with so many Israelis?
If one speaks to the young supporters of Naftali Bennett, one can hear how much they very much like his idea of annexing area C, which makes up 60 percent of Judea and Samaria. The majority of Jews in Judea and Samaria live in Area C, which has a Jewish majority presently. 400,000 Jews and 50,000 Arabs live in this area. Bennett believes that Israel should offer those 50,000 Palestinians citizenship, yet does not think that most will accept. Areas A and B of Judea and Samaria, where most Palestinians live, can be autonomous, according to Bennett’s plan. Palestinians living in Areas A and B can chose whether to vote within their autonomous areas or in Jordanian elections. However, Naftali Bennett is against granting the Palestinians a state.
Bennett believes that Israel, by annexing Area C, could ensure that any Palestinian autonomous entity would be demilitarized and would prevent the influx of Arabs from other countries into the area. (Abbas not too long ago has called upon the UN to force Israel to permit Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria to resettle in Judea and Samaria.) Such a proposal is strongly supported by many Israelis who feel that the Palestinians have violated various agreements that they made with Israel so many times that the idea of a Palestinian state on Israeli territory is null and void. Yet at the same time, Bennett does not think that it is a good idea at this time to annex all of Judea and Samaria and absorb 2.5 million Arabs.
Bennett’s stance on the Palestinians is not the only reason for his support. According to Elisheva Goldberg, an international relations analyst, the young right prefers Bennett to Netanyahu and Leiberman because he is a fresh young face who believes that he can change Israel for the better. There is a sense that Bennett is “the man with a plan.” These sentiments are reinforced by the fact that he is the son of American immigrants who at a young age had a successful career in high tech, before moving on to serve for two years as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s chief of staff.
While certain people in the White House are concerned by his rising popularity, Naftali Bennett offers words of reassurance to skeptics: “We are the real “centrists”– loving our heritage is centrist, loving the Land of Israel is centrist, loving the Jewish People is centrist – that is what most Israelis feel, but there were those who made them feel ashamed to say so out loud. We are getting them to speak up. We are the real centrist party because Israel is more Jewish than it has ever been. If you think it is insane to hand over land to our enemies, you are not extremist; you are centrist. If you want housing that is affordable, you are centrist.”
He continued, “The once centrist parties have turned left. In fact, many of our views are similar to those of the Labor party in the seventies. It is they who have changed. We have a fantastic list. Nine of our first group of candidates were in combat units, we have three experienced former Knesset members, our younger candidates are idealists with proven accomplishments, we have three talented women, and another Anglo besides me. The Jewish Home has room for all Zionists.” Naftali Bennett has called upon his fellow Jews to join his “Jewish spring.”
By Rachel Avraham