By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
In what seemed an unguarded moment, Naftali Bennett, the leader of Habayit Hayehudi, made it known that he and Sarah Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, went to the same terrorist school. Not surprisingly, some Iranian media are said to have taken it literally and reported the existence of institutions in Israel that train terrorists.
For a number of years Bennett had been part of the prime minister’s office and, therefore, judging by persistent reports about Sarah Netanyahu’s interference in matters of state, he knows whereof he speaks. Like most jokes, this one, too, was serious.
Mrs. Netanyahu also appears to have taken it seriously and is now said by “experts” specializing in gossip that she’s preventing her husband from including Bennett in his coalition. But the same pundits also predict that Netanyahu may defy his wife because Bennett’s cabinet presence would calm the settlers, whom he seems to represent, and support Netanyahu’s own pro-settlement stance, reflected in his assumed reluctance to negotiate with the Palestinians.
But there may be even more to Mrs. Netanyahu’s animus than meets the eye. Her intuition may tally with those of others, which I share for what it’s worth, that Bennett is the most likely rival to claim the prime minister’s office. She wouldn’t like that.
The elections have greatly diminished Netanyahu’s standing both in the country and in his own party. Some internal recriminations have already surfaced and, no doubt, others will become known once the new coalition has been formed. And when people begin to speculate about succession, Bennett is the most likely candidate. Because:
Lieberman who is said to have seen himself in that role may be on his way out. Even if he doesn’t end up in jail after the police investigations are completed which would remove him from the scene, at least for a time, he has hinted at his disappointment with the election results and thus implicitly with Netanyahu. There’re even rumours that the unholy alliance between the parties led by the two rivals will soon split up.
If we were to rely only on numbers, Yair Lapid would be a contender. However, for all his charm and electoral success, it’s difficult to see him as a prime minister. And his party may vanish after the next election thus following in the footsteps of the party of his late father (Shinui), the Pensioners’ Party and Kadima (what’s left of it may be absorbed by Likud, especially if its leader Shaul Mofaz is rewarded with the office of minister of defense). Parties of the dissatisfied come and go in Israel.
Bennett, on the other hand, though himself a newcomer is the leader of a party that has a long tradition, going back to the original Mizrachi, later called The National Religious Party. Though its platform has indeed changed and it has become more right-wing, perhaps even reactionary, its foundations as an Orthodox Zionist party are much more solid than the above-mentioned. This means that Bennett will be around for a long time, long enough perhaps even to merge with Likud to claim the crown.
Most of the above is, of course, speculation, but that’s all I hear nowadays. In the absence of hard facts there’s a plethora of creative opinions; I find some of them irresistible. But one thing seems quite certain: though there may be changes for the better in Israeli politics, there’s no Messiah waiting to redeem the country and the rest of the world. Bennett may try to fake it.