Forward Thinking

For Bibi, Two Setbacks on Tuesday

By Nathan Jeffay

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reeling from not one but two disappointments on Tuesday. It is widely believed that he was desperate for Mitt Romney to win the American presidential election. But he also had an eye on another election at home.

The main religious-Zionist party Jewish Home was holding its primaries to choose a new leader, and the winner was none other than his former right-hand man who he wanted to lose.

High tech millionaire Naftali Bennett became Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006, and was responsible for the campaign that got him elected as Likud leader. But the two didn’t see eye to eye, and in 2008 Bennett left. Bibi was so keen for him not to be elected that his wife Sara Netanyahu was reportedly canvassing against him.

So what is it that made Netanyahu want one of Bennett’s rival primary candidates to lead Jewish Home? It’s not a subject he’s discussed but one can suppose that it’s in large part the very same things he liked about Bennett back in 2006.

He is extremely successful. In 1999, Bennett — who is profiled in this Forward article — co-founded Cyota, a company that develops anti-fraud software and became its CEO. He sold the company in 2005 to U.S.-based RSA Security for $145 million. It was shortly afterwards that he joined Bibi, and impressed him with his brains and charisma.

Now, he’s bringing all of that to a party that took a battering in the last election and is raring for a comeback. It’s a vigorously pro-settler party to the right of Likud but Bennett, who lives not in a settlement but in Ranaana, is politically astute, and sports a clean-shaven face and just a small yarmulke on his head looks nothing like a stereotypical settler, is well placed to make inroads among Likud’s supporters.

“We have already enlisted many Likud voters from around the country,” he told local media. — and he’s probably telling the truth.

Bottom line: Expect serious overtures from Bibi to religious-Zionist voters during this election campaign.


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