Naftali Bennett, who was sworn in on Sunday as Israel’s new prime minister, embodies many of the contradictions that define the 73-year-old nation.
He is a religious Jew who made millions in the high tech sector, mostly secular; a champion of the colonization movement who lives in a suburb of Tel Aviv and a former ally of Benjamin Netanyahu who partnered with centrist and left-wing parties to end his 12-year reign.
His ultra-nationalist Yamina party won just seven seats out of 120 Knesset members in the March election – the fourth such vote in two years. But by refusing to commit to Netanyahu or his opponents, Bennett has positioned himself as a kingmaker. Even after a member of his religious nationalist party abandoned him to protest the new coalition deal, he ended up with the crown.
Here’s a look at the new leader of Israel:
AN ULTRA-NATIONALIST WITH A MODERATE COALITION
Bennett has long positioned himself to the right of Netanyahu. But it will be severely constrained by its heavy coalition, which has only a slim majority in parliament and includes right, left and center parties.
He is opposed to Palestinian independence and strongly supports Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians and much of the international community see as a major obstacle to peace.
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Bennett fiercely criticized Netanyahu after the prime minister agreed to slow settlement building under pressure from then-President Obama, who unsuccessfully tried to revive the peace process early in his first term.
He briefly served as head of the West Bank settlers council, Yesha, before entering the Knesset in 2013. Bennett then served as Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Education and Defense in various governments led by Netanyahu.
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“He’s a right-wing leader, a supporter of security, but at the same time very pragmatic,” said Yohanan Plesner, director of the Israel Institute of Democracy, who has known Bennett for decades and served with him in the army.
He expects Bennett to engage with other factions to find a “common denominator” as he seeks support and legitimacy as a national leader.
RIVALITY WITH NETANYAHU
The 49-year-old father-of-four shares Netanyahu’s hawkish approach to the Middle East conflict, but the two have had a strained relationship over the years.
Bennett was Netanyahu’s chief of staff for two years, but they broke up after a mysterious fall-out that Israeli media linked to Netanyahu’s wife Sara, who wields great influence over her husband’s inner circle.
Bennett campaigned as a pillar of the right ahead of the March election and signed a pledge on national television saying he would never allow Yair Lapid, a centrist and Netanyahu’s main rival, to become prime minister.
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But when it became clear that Netanyahu was incapable of forming a ruling coalition, that is exactly what Bennett did, agreeing to serve as prime minister for two years before handing over power to Lapid, the architect of the news. coalition.
Netanyahu supporters have branded Bennett a traitor, claiming he defrauded voters. Bennett defended his decision as a pragmatic step to unify the country and avoid a fifth round of elections.
A CHANGE OF GENERATION
Bennett, a modern Orthodox Jew, will be the first Israeli prime minister to regularly wear a kippah, the skullcap worn by observant Jews. He lives in the posh Tel Aviv suburb of Ra’anana, rather than the settlements he defends.
Bennett began life with his US-born parents in Haifa, then rebounded with his family between North America and Israel, military service, law school, and the private sector. All along, he has organized a character that is at the same time modern, religious and nationalist.
After serving in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, Bennett attended the Hebrew University Law School. In 1999, he co-founded Cyota, an anti-fraud software company that was sold in 2005 to the US company RSA Security for $ 145 million.
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Bennett said the bitter experience of Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had driven him into politics. The month-long war ended inconclusive, and Israel’s military and political leaders at the time were widely criticized for spoiling the campaign.
Bennett represents a third generation of Israeli leaders, after the founders of the state and the generation of Netanyahu, who came of age during the country’s tense early years marked by repeated wars with the Arab states.
“He is Israel 3.0,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer, columnist for the leftist Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in a recent profile of Bennett.
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“A Jewish nationalist but not really dogmatic. A bit religious, but certainly not devout. A soldier who prefers the comfort of urban civilian life and a high-tech entrepreneur who no longer seeks to earn millions. A supporter of the Great Land of Israel, but not a settler. And he might not be a longtime politician either. “
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