Tech industry millionaire new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, 49, has made his way to the right of his former mentor and now predecessor, Binyamin Netanyahu.
Bennett heads the Yamina Party, which advocates economic ultra-liberalism, an anti-Iran hard line, and the annexation of nearly two-thirds of the occupied West Bank, giving his right-wing party great popularity with Jewish settlers.
The former entrepreneur made his fortune in the tech industry and entered politics relatively late. But since 2013, this militant of “religious nationalism” has held five ministerial portfolios.
The last, that of Defense, in 2020, led him to organize a large mobilization of the Army to manage the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A tailor-made image for an audience [israelense] is desperately seeking a legitimate replacement for Netanyahu, ”said Evan Gottesman of the Israel Political Forum.
Just two years ago he was considered politically dead, but if the last election – in March – he had a poor result, he has played his cards in recent weeks to end up becoming a key player in training of a possible coalition government.
Bennett has so far harbored doubts about his intentions, without specifying whether he would deliver the final blow to Netanyahu, in power since 2009.
His surprising adhesion to the new motley alliance that runs from his right-to-left party, with the backing of an Arab party, was negotiated in a grand style: the post of prime minister until 2023.
Leader Yamina only had a few hours to justify his decision.
“I knew I would be criticized,” he said calmly on television, while the far right on the internet mocked him by showing him Palestinian handkerchiefs.
“I chose to do what had to be done for the good of Israel,” insisted the one who is now the first head of government in the country’s history to wear a kippah.
Married to Gilat Bennett, a confectioner by training, and father of four children, he practices strict Judaism, although open to modernity.
Son of American immigrants, born in 1972 in Haifa (north), Bennett established himself in the early 2000s as one of the darlings of the “start-up nation” thanks to his cybersecurity company Cyotta, sold 145 million dollars in 2005, before making the jump to politics in Netanyahu’s Likud the following year.
Two years later, Bennett left Likud to lead the Yesha Council, the main advocacy group for thousands of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.
In 2012, he shocked the entire Israeli political scene by taking control of the far-right Lar Judaico, which seduced some of the settlers with harsh words.
He said, for example, that the conflict with the Palestinians is not resolved, but must be argued as “shell fire in the ass.” At another point, he said there was no Israeli occupation in the West Bank because “there never was a Palestinian state.” He also said that it was necessary to “kill terrorists, not release them”, referring to Palestinian prisoners.