Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is Naftali Bennet a Titanic for the Right?

By Tuvia Brodie

As Israel 2013 election day begins, some on the Right seem ready to celebrate. Almost everywhere they look, they see reports that suggest the Right will be this election’s biggest winner.
Based on polls that too often understate what is real and overstate what is desired, expectations run high. Many believe we are about to see historic change. We will see a new ruling coalition that will finally be Right-of-center. We will no longer see Jewish homes in Judea-Samaria demolished. We will see Jews in Israel protected. We will no longer see Jews promote false peace plans that threaten Israel.
Most exciting of all, political newcomer Naftali Bennet of Bayit HaYehudi will be strong enough (according to polls) to become part of the government. He’s a new face with strong ideas; he will pull the government to the Right.
Before the election season began, no one had heard of Bennet. Now, suddenly, this unknown new-comer will change the government!
Is that possible? Can someone with no public political track-record become the hero who empowers the Right?
Is Naftali Bennet a political unknown who will save the Right or is he a political Titanic who will sink the Right?
Do we know?
In Bennet, we find a political player at stage center who has little on his political resume. To paraphrase an old American football coach, voting for that kind of politician could turn out to be like throwing a forward pass: only three things can happen—and two of them are bad.
The one good possibility of a Bennet vote is that, if Bennet is what we think he is—staunchly pro-Israel—he will be a strong voice in the Knesset.
But the two bad things about Bennet begin with that same Knesset voice. First, if Bennet is in fact strongly pro-Israel, he probably will not be in any coalition. He will be just another MK (Member of the Knesset). He will not have a direct influence on government policy. Why? Because Netanyahu has already said that he does not want hawks in his coalition. If that is true, a win for Bennet is a loss for the Right: he does little good for the Right sitting outside the ruling coalition.
He’ll change nothing.
If Bennet is to help the Right, he needs to get a seat in the government. How can he do that if he’s such a hawk? Netanyahu is said to want a ‘centerist’ coalition, something he can easily do without Bennet. But if Bennet is actually a protege of Netanyahu, he can get that seat.
That’s the second bad thing a vote for Bennet could get you.
Remember, Bennet is a political unknown. We have not seen his political views defended in the public limelight. We don’t know which beliefs he’s ready to fight for--and which 'beliefs' are only campaign slogans.
It is not that outrageous to think that Bennet could be a Netanyahu protégé. As a political cipher, we don’t know much about him. He runs for national leadership with absolutely no visible political track record. But we do know this about him: he has been Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff. He has worked closely with Netanyahu. Very closely. Is it possible that, despite their supposed falling out, a former Chief of Staff shares the same ideology as his ex-boss?
A Chief of Staff does not hold views opposed by his boss. Life doesn’t work that way; neither does Netanyahu. A Chief of Staff mirrors and anticipates his boss. He doesn’t oppose him.
As a former Chief of Staff, it’s more than possible that Bennet shares Netanyahu’s political views—and his approach to political campaign strategy (speak Rightish, lean Leftish). Can you imagine a coalition that has perhaps 37 seats with Netanyahu plus 17 seats with Bennet (what the‘ideal’ polls now show)—with both men sharing the same ideology?
If these two men are ideological mirror-images of each other, they could cobble together a coalition with Haredi Parties. The result would not be a Rightist ruling government. It would not be the pro-Israel government the Right wants. It would be something the Right rejects. It would be ‘Netanyahu’.
If Bennet shares Netanyahu’s views, their coalition would mean that Netanyahu has clear sailing. No one, least of all his former Chief of Staff, would oppose him.
How would the Right feel about that scenario?
Our problem is, we do not know enough about Bennet to argue that this scenario is wrong; that’s why voting for him is such a risk.
Look, Bennet is attractive. His message resonates. But for national leadership, he’s too risky. The Right could be safer with a coalition made up of Netanyahu with 37 seats, the Haredi with 17 and another not-entirely-Right Party completing the coalition structure. That would give Netanyahu almost as much discretion to do what he wants as a Netanyahu-Bennet combination—with one difference: a stronger, more visible Moshe Feiglin in Likud (many of the Right candidates on this election's Likud list are Feiglin supporters).
Don’t discount Moshe Feiglin. He heads the largest faction in Likud. The Right would have more influence on government policy with a non-Bennet coalition—containing a strong Feiglin-- than with a weakened Feiglin and an empowered neo-Netanyahu called Bennet.
In Israel's election process, using the 'surplus vote agreement' rule, Netanyahu could leverage a strong showing by Bennet to weaken Feiglin's Likud power. If Bennet is a Netanyahu protege, he will get into the new government-- and Feiglin's power base could be gutted.
Feiglin is a known, proven veteran. Bennet, despite his appeal, is still unknown. For example, how did you feel when Bennet said he would seek a conscience objection if, as a soldier, he were faced with removing Jews from their homes? How did you then feel when he back-pedaled on that question, once the pressure hit?
How did you feel when Bennet spoke strongly about ‘protecting Israel’? How did you then feel when he said that he would agree with tearing down homes built on ‘private’Arab land?
Do these words sound like a staunch Rightist--or a Netanyahu echo?
You should worry about his real positions, how staunchly he will defend those positions—and how closely his political ideology matches up with his former boss.
As painful as this might seem to you, you might be better off voting for a known (a Likud with Feiglin) than an unknown (Bennet, the former Netanyahu Chief of Staff).
The Titanic was beautiful. It caused people to gasp with pleasure. It was filled with promise—just like Bennet. But the Titanic’s performance was an unknown. We all know what happened to that Titanic. Is Bennet the Israeli political version of that beautiful promise?
As you choose new national leadership, do you really take the risk of voting for someone you know so little about?

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