A Letter from Naftali Bennett to Us All
Below is my translation of a Facebook Post former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett put up on September 14 and it is offered here with permission. The original post is beneath the English.
Let me say something first:
I know that many of my readers feel horribly betrayed by Bennett. I do not. But I can sort-of understand their sense of betrayal. I would find it easier to understand them if they had expressed the same sense of betrayal regarding other parties they voted for in the past, or are now considering voting for, when comparing election campaign promises and what the parties and their leaders actually did when in power. This is important: WHAT DID THEY ACTUALLY DO WHEN THEY WERE IN POSITIONS OF INFLUENCE?
Just as I respect the opinions of others and their right to express them, I expect to be afforded the same respect. Those who know me know that I examine what I see, hear and learn and come to my own conclusions. They know that when enough evidence is in front of me, I also change my mind. My opinion of Bennett is that he is an honest man, an honourable man, who wanted to be Prime Minister because he thought he had something of value to offer the nation. That opinion has not changed and his so-called chutzpah in sitting in the PM seat with only 7 seats (at the start, at least) has not changed my opinion of him. It is part of our electoral system to be able to do that. I said why I did not consider that move to be a betrayal of his base here. I accept that many of you disagree with me.
Anyone who seeks the Prime Minister’s job has to be narcissistic to a degree. Otherwise, they would not aim for that post. They have to have a thick skin. They have to believe they have something to offer. I think that is true for ALL of our prime ministers, those whose views I agree with and those with whom I strongly disagree. I think, actually, that they are crazy to want that job. I would love the opportunity to get into their heads and see what propelled them to take the responsibility of our nation upon their shoulders. But that is another story.
Here is Bennett speaking for himself:
A year and a quarter ago I made a decision – to prefer the state over the base, my immediate political reference group, and to establish a government in Israel.
I paid a heavy personal price for it, as did my family.
I want to say something as clearly as possible:
My decision to form a government in Israel was the best and most Zionist decision I made in my entire life.
It seems to me, and I say this with regret, that some of those who now say it was a mistake, are simply in a state of post-trauma.
They were intimidated, trampled and crushed.
I don’t judge them and I’m not angry.
I saw, with my own eyes, and experienced, with my very flesh, the machine that cut them apart.
Day after day.
One after the other.
Distorted thinking: As if a political decision of one kind or another is a legitimate reason for endless mental abuse.
I would like to take you back to the days before the establishment of the government:
Remember, the State of Israel was in turmoil.
We were shortly after the Guardian of the Walls riots in the mixed cities inside Israel, after the Hamas rockets on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The fields of Otef Aza (The Gaza Envelope) were burning, and the children of those communities were traumatized.
The country ran into an unprecedented deficit of almost NIS 200 billion. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed remained at home, without work, without livelihood.
A paralyzed country.
The dilemma that faced me was to go with the base and go for fifth elections, or to prefer what is good for the country and establish a national rescue government.
I chose the hard alternative.
I chose to take responsibility and establish a government in Israel.
And from that moment – the gates of hell opened on me, my family and my faction members. A relentless onslaught of poison, of lies.
A year of brotherly hatred.
But in this toxic tsunami, with eight parties, in the most diverse coalition in Israel’s history (and not easy to manage), despite all this – the government under my leadership managed to do in one year, what other governments have not done in an entire term.
We passed a budget.
It sounds obvious, right? But it was not obvious for several years,
and let us see if there will be a budget next year.
We stopped with the closures. We led the economy to 8% growth, the highest in the Western world (!). We laid the infrastructure to fight the cost of living in Israel. We put hundreds of thousands of unemployed back to work. We reduced the deficit to almost zero.
I stopped the suitcases of dollars going over to Hamas. That party is over.
And yet, the year I served as prime minister was the quietest year in years for the children of Sderot and Otef Aza (I’m proud of it).
This was due to my new policy: economic generosity alongside security resolve.
For the first time we responded to every single balloon, and for the first time in years I allowed workers from Gaza to enter to work in Israel.
We restored Israel’s international relations. Doors were opened for us all over the world, from Washington and Glasgow to Sharm el-Sheikh and Abu Dhabi.
We moved the campaign against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the land of Israel to the land of Iran, and prevented a return to the nuclear agreement.
And no less important, we moved from “I” to “we”.
Recently, I have been devoting most of my time to the various areas of security: the Iranian nuclear crisis, Lebanon and gas, the instability in Judea and Samaria, and the far-reaching economic consequences of the war in Ukraine.
I see how much our political instability weakens us.
If our enemies were asked what their wish was, they would answer:
To bring the State of Israel into an endless sequence of elections and internal enmity, which leads to the paralysis of the governing systems in Israel (it is worth billions to them).
They realized that if Israel is dealing with internal maelstrom, we will not be able to muster the energy to face them.
Over the past year, I have often spoken about the challenges of the eighth decade of the State of Israel. Throughout the course of the history of the Jewish people, we have failed to exist here as a sovereign Jewish state for more than 80 years.
It happened during the days of the First Temple; the kingdom split.
We lost more than half of our people.
We didn’t learn the lesson. We allowed it to happen again, in the days of the Second Temple. This time, we went into exile for two thousand years.
It must not happen a third time.
This time, we have to beat the sectarianism.
It is possible.
What, then, is the issue that threatens to tear us apart in Israel’s eighth decade? What are we actually arguing about?
The answer is: about nothing.
Is the State of Israel facing a historic decision such as the Oslo Accords, a decision that includes the relinquishment of land and the evacuation of settlements?
Is Israel about to annex territories within its border? No.
Do you know of any dramatic legislation that is going to erase Israel’s Jewish identity, or alternatively of a plan to turn Israel into a state run by Halacha (Jewish Law)? No.
So what is going on here?
There is anxiety.
A lot of anxiety.
And there are those – on both sides – who fan the flames, fuel the fire, encourage the anxiety.
There are those who work to divide us into small groups, rivals, groups hostile to each other.
The feelings of anxiety experienced by the various groups are real, but they are artificially imposed upon us and intensified by those the anxiety serves.
When you feel your identity is under attack, you withdraw into yourself, armour yourself, and go to war.
Israel’s Jewish identity is perhaps the most obvious issue. There is a sector that is afraid of a Halacha state, a concept they are convinced that is about to be imposed on us. That we are on our way to the world as envisioned in “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
On the other hand, another sector feels that Israel’s Jewish identity is in danger, that it is under a progressive attack aimed at erasing every sign of Jewish tradition from us.
These anxieties are real, but in my view, unjustified.
The truth is that the Jewish identity of the State of Israel is not in danger.
Israel is perfectly fine!
There is room for changes, for corrections.
But Israel’s Jewish identity is solid.
The Israeli government does not work to proselytize secular people or make religious people secular.
The social networks, instead of creating a fruitful and fascinating market of opinions according to the best of Jewish tradition, leads us to close ourselves off from the other.
Leads us to incomprehensible sectarianism and to out and out war among the different groups.
Like loyalty to football teams, there is no reasoning, facts have no value. If you ‘belong’ to a team, nothing will move you away. No logical argument will convince a Maccabi fan to move to Hapoel. In the political arena, such a situation of habitual identity is dangerous.
Today, there is a war going on in Israel between two camps. They have deep mutual enmity. There is no place for facts or debate. Events are interpreted by each side as if it proves that side’s very righteousness. A group member must not compromise! God forbid, it will hurt the team! And if you dared to compromise – you will be attacked.
The truth is that mechanisms on both sides have been focusing lately less on attacking each other, and more on hurting and silencing the moderate voices within their own camps. Those who cross a line are simply abused.
Every journalist, every tweeter, every junior public figure who violates the accepted norm receives a barrage of venom and personal attacks on his or her personal past.
What happens then?
Moderates on both sides are daunted. Afraid to speak out.
I know a number of people who dared to give the last government a chance and were attacked so harshly and so personally that they will never repeat this ‘mistake.’
And they withdraw, reduce their attendance in the public sphere.
When the moderate voices in each camp are silenced, only the most extreme voices are left to be heard.
Then the country enters a state of quasi ‘insanity.’
When we hate the other camp more than we love the country, we are doomed.
I believe it is possible to function in another way.
After all, we are the people of Israel – we are not like that!
I believe it is possible to get out of the paralysis.
I’m tired of the old disputes that lead us nowhere.
And I am not the only one. With me are many. There are many among us, who see themselves as more than just a label, who are willing to contend with complexity because we are all complex beings.
I believe that it is possible to reach a state of cooperation among the different parts of Israeli society.
I grew up colour blind because of, or thanks to, my parents, two secular Jews who immigrated to Israel, got closer to tradition and religion, and did not understand at all what all the divisions were.
“We are all Jews,” they always told me.
I don’t see religious and secular, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, Israel first, second, third, and fourth.
In my eyes, we are all one.
My nationalist, security, and economic positions and views are right wing. That has not changed. But to me, we are all beloved brothers.
The fact that there are differences among us is a gift, even when it is challenging.
But how do we get from our very divided and sectorial situation to the idyllic picture I just described? How do you change the atmosphere?
In my opinion, it is necessary to establish a “government reflecting life itself,” following the model of the government headed by me over the past year,
But with a different composition — comprised of the main parties in Israel as the basis of the government, which then also includes the smaller ones from both sides.
A government that temporarily puts aside issues with ideological sensitivity, and focuses on improving the economy, dealing with traffic jams, reducing the cost of living, providing security, and addressing health issues.
The same working principles. The same atmosphere as in the government that I led. Each side explains to their base the idea of working together toward attaining specific concrete goals.
What happens quite quickly is that working relationships develop and trust ensues among the very different ideological blocs.
Because Corona is not left and right. Roads are not left and right. The housing problem is not left and right. I have often seen how coalitions are formed between blocs on different issues, regardless of ideological positions.
And that is a beautiful thing.
Then you find that people have two versions:
the hard ideological version,
and the relaxed pragmatic version.
After a certain period of time, you can move on to the second stage:
Carefully touching on sensitive points of dispute.
Since trust has already been established between left and right, and you see that the other side also loves the country as much as you do, and even has common sense, the chance of reaching solutions appears achievable.
And if you manage to pass this stage, you can approach the formulation of deeper agreements.
What I am saying here is, in fact, the implementation of a basic lesson in Judaism:
אחרי המעשים נמשכים הלבבות, that can be interpreted as: our actions lead to feelings.
The consciousness of togetherness is created from being together and doing together. Doing together.
I will tell you a story from my youth, an experience at my high school yeshiva in Haifa.
One day, we were told that there was going to be a meeting with the secular school “Hugim”.
The rabbis prepared us for weeks as if for war.
“If they say ‘this’, answer in this way. If they say ‘that’, answer in this way.”
And so it was. Of course nothing good came of it because the discourse focused entirely on the issues of controversy.
On the other hand, when I enlisted in the Giora team in a patrol of the Israel Defense Forces, there were seculars, religious, leftists and rightists. We all knew, without speaking of it, that we were on a mission for our country, and the mission did not deal with issues of religion and state, but with building a camouflage position or maintaining joint navigation, and that’s where the connection, the friendships, and the trust were built. After a few months, our relationships developed to a level at which it was possible for us to engage in rational dialogue on political issues.
By the way, several team members did change their positions significantly — in both directions.
Let me repeat: The correct political recipe for the coming years is “a government reflecting life itself” — a broad government that includes all elements of Israeli society.
You ask, and what is the role of ideology?
I will make answering even more difficult by noting that some of the great leaders of the Jewish People were, by nature, fanatical ideologues. Moses was a zealot. Mattathias the Hasmonean was fanatical, and, in fact, on the basis of this fanaticism a sovereign political entity was established in the days of the Second Temple.
The answer, then, concerns timing. There is a time for clarification and ideological breakthrough, and a time for moderation and compromise.
There are periods in the life of a nation when fanaticism is required, such as Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who was fanatical about the Hebrew language, and there are periods when ideological fanaticism breeds destruction. The wisdom of the leader is to recognize when it is time for ideological rigidity and fanaticism, and when it is time for moderation and pragmatism, so that we can live and grow together.
I believe in the ideology of togetherness in the construction of Israel’s Golden Mean.
I would like to emphasize the beauty of this principle:
No one is required to give up their ideology.
Everyone is required to put it aside, temporarily,
and focus on life itself.
I am a zealot with regards to our statehood. That’s how I was raised. The good of the country is above the good of the sector.
I’m not part of a group; I’m part of a People, a country,
And I’m convinced that many others feel the same way I do.
But during the last year, many good people simply kept silent.
I suggest learning from it. This is not the time to be silent.
The time has come for those who believe in our togetherness to make their voices heard. It is a matter of life and death.