Naftali Bennett thinks he can burst Bibi’s bubble. Elected head of the main religious-Zionist party, Jewish Home, this month, the clean-shaven, 40-year-old hi-tech millionaire believes he can steal plenty of votes from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
This claim is more than mere rhetoric. From 2006 to 2008, Mr Bennett was Mr Netanyahu’s chief of staff and knows the man and his party from the inside.
Reports of concern in Mr Netanyahu’s camp at his former aide’s new position seem to reinforce the sense that he poses an electoral threat.
According to Ha’aretz, the Prime Minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, went so far as to try to deter a high-profile Jewish Home member from supporting Mr Bennett.
Mr Net-anyahu’s colleag-ues are also concerned about what happens if he wins another term as prime minister and has to work with Jewish Home.
Mr Bennett is expected to win around 10 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, try to join the ruling coalition and, as the most pro-settler party, attempt to tie Mr Netanyahu’s hands to prevent any concessions to the Palestinians.
Mr Bennett is promising to increase the representation of Jewish Home — formerly the National Religious Party — from its current low of three Knesset seats. He said in an interview that his primary campaign “touched on the huge frustration of the national religious that we feel we are leaders in many areas — the army, business and settlements — but have just three seats and the portfolio of the Ministry of Science, which is meaningless.”
Since the last general election, Mr Netanyahu has outlined his acceptance, within certain limitations, of the idea of a Palestinian state. Mr Bennett believes many Likud voters reject this, and would also like to see a stronger sense of Jewish identity in the education system and more support for settlements.
He sees these three issues, which form the centrepiece of his platform, as “non-sectarian” and claims that, for the first time in his party’s history, it will attract support from outside the Orthodox community. “We are focusing on traditional Jews who might go to shul [on Shabbat] but afterwards may go home and watch TV,” he said.