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Fri Jan 18, 2013, 12:22 PM

Naftali Bennett: Is the Right-Wing Newcomer the New Face of Israel?

By Karl VickJan. 18, 2013

Before Israel’s election campaign actually began, the bright new star of the coming campaign was decreed to be Yair Lapid, a strikingly handsome and reassuringly articulate anchorman and newspaper columnist. Already known to the Israeli public, Lapid had the freedom to create a party, Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) that took aim at the dead center of the Israeli electorate, where historically elections are won or lost. He did that, spent months in living rooms talking to people who knew him only from television, and then, when the campaign officially began in November, ended up in the same place as the rest of the Israeli political establishment – watching a man named Naftali Bennett become the center of attention.


Bennett, 40, is the former commando and hi-tech entrepreneur who heads the Jewish Home party, a political organization that predates the founding of Israel, but that’s been on the periphery of its politics for decades. Polls show that, through December, it surged into third place, gathering support almost entirely at the expense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. The erosion came even though Netanyahu had linked Likud on the ballot with the Yisrael Beinteinu (“Israel Is Our Home”) party of ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman in hopes of creating an electoral fait accompli.

As my magazine article in the new issue of TIME points out, Netanyahu remains almost certain to return as prime minister after the Jan. 22 election. But the story of the election has become how the incumbent spent most of the campaign furiously battling an unexpected challenge from a right flank that had become suddenly exposed despite his embrace of Lieberman. Israel is moving to the political right even faster than Netanyahu calculated, and cannot be expected to slow down. The surge toward Jewish Home is the best evidence of that. Its strength comes mainly from young voters, Jewish Israelis who polls have long shown are more nationalist and more right-wing than their parents. And those same polls show more than half of Israelis consider themselves right wing.

Bennett spoke at length about this phenomenon in the hour I spent with him on Jan. 1, in his office in his campaign headquarters in a high rise in Petah Tikva, northeast of Tel Aviv. He talks about the advantages of running a ”trickle-up” campaign on Facebook, the lesson in candor he learned watching Barack Obama, his surprise that his clever campaign video sketching a plan to annex the West Bank (because peace talks are pointless) went viral, and why he was “pretty worried” that his insurgent campaign was peaking too soon. The full transcript appears below.

Read more: http://world.time.com/2013/01/18/an-hour-with-naftali-bennett-is-the-right-wing-newcomer-the-new-face-of-israel/#ixzz2ILgpmoYj

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