Naftali Bennett, 49, born in Israel to American Jewish immigrants is an Israeli politician and technology millionaire turned religious lawmaker who is a supporter of Israeli settlements and opponent of a Palestinian state. He is also a modern Orthodox religious Jew, if he becomes Israel’s Prime Minister, Bennett will be the country’s first religious head of government.
Bennett served as Minister of Diaspora Affairs from 2013 to 2019 and Minister of Defense from 2019 to 2020.
In his early years, he was an officer in an elite commanding unit doing his military service, which is required of most Jewish Israeli citizens. In 1996, while serving in Southern Lebanon where Israeli’s military then occupied, he and his unit were pinned down near the Lebanese village of Kafr Qana. As they tried to retreat, an Israeli artillery strike killed 102 Lebanese civilians taking shelter at a United Nation’s facility – an incident known as Qana massacre.
After, he went to work in the tech industry and studied Law at Hebrew university in Jerusalem. In 1999, he co-founded and co-owned the US company Cyota operating in the anti-fraud space, focused on online banking fraud, e-commerce fraud and phishing. It was later sold to a US security firm in 2005 for $145 million. Likewise, he served as CEO of Soluto, an Israeli cloud computing service sold in 2013 for about $130 million.
Bennett entered Israeli politics in 2006 and served as Chief of Staff for Benjamin Netanyahu until 2008. It was reported that he left on rocky terms with the Israeli Prime Minister. Following this he co-founded the My Israel extra-parliamentary movement in 2011 with Ayelet Shaked and was elected as the party leader of The Jewish home in 2012.
A year later, he re-entered politics and served under Prime Minister Netanyahu as the Minister of Economy and Religious Services from 2013 to 2015 and as Minister of Education from 2015 to 2019.
In December 2018, he defected from The Jewish home and teamed with Ayelet Shaked to form the New Right Party. Although the party did not initially pass the electoral threshold entering Israeli’s parliament in the 2019 election but in the latest election held in March, the party which is part of Bennett’s Yamina party, which New Right is part of secured 6 of 120 available seats, which is enough to enter Israeli’s parliament and enough for Bennett to become Prime Minister.
Furthermore, Bennett has become known for his incendiary Anti-Palestinian rhetoric. In 2015, he referred to the prospects of a Pestian state as “suicide” for Israel. In another controversial statements in 2013, Bennett said “I have killed a lot of Arabs in my life and there’s absolutely no problem with that” for which he was widely condemned and then he denied saying, claiming that he merely said that terrorist should be killed if they pose an immediate life threat to our soldiers when in action.
In that same year, Bennett suggested that Israel must learn to live with the Palestinian problem without a “surgical action” of separation to two states: “I have a friend who’s got shrapnel in his rear end, and he’s been told that it can be removed surgically, but it would leave him disabled… So he decided to live with it. There are situations where insisting on perfection can lead to more trouble than it’s worth.”
On 2 June 2021, Bennett signed a coalition agreement with Yair Lapid, whereby Bennett would serve as Israel’s prime minister until 2023 and then Lapid would assume the role until 2025.