Every Israeli election season, theres a politician with a
provocative message who spurs his party to prominence and
In 2009, that was Avigdor Lieberman, who brought his ultra-
nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party into coalition with the leading
Likud party, becoming a central voice in Israeli politics. This
time, the breakout candidate is Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett,
a former settler leader who opposes a Palestinian state and has
proposed that Israel annex most of the West Bank.
But Mr. Bennetts appeal lies somewhere other than his policies.
He is a new, young face in politics, a former commando, and a self-
made high-tech industry millionaire who offers out-of-the-box policy
prescriptions reflecting an unconventional combination of feel-good
Zionist patriotism with the middle-class populism of Israels 2011
social protest movement. That has helped him breathe new life into
the stultified pro-settler party of religious Zionists, and allowed
it to engage new constituencies despite running candidates with
extreme religious and political opinions.
"The job of the party I represent has always been to worry about
the religious. I dont want a sectoral [narrow-based] party," Bennett
said at a meeting in Tel Aviv with a demographic far outside the
definition of Jewish Home's typical supporters: largely secular
Russian-Israeli yuppies. "I want a party thats open to the
secular... the Israeli patriot... and to be the lobby of all the
This all-embracing pitch has helped him siphon away support for
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, making the
rivalry on the right one of the major story lines of the campaign
and prompting Likud to move further rightward in an effort to stop
losing voters to Jewish Home.
The Jewish Home party is the offspring of the National Religious
Party, which began in the center of Israels political map in the
1960s and 1970s but moved to the far right as Orthodox Israelis
became increasingly identified with expanding settlements in the
West Bank and Gaza. The party saw its parliamentary seats dwindle
from 12 in 1977 to a low of three in 2009, at which point it renamed
itself "Jewish Home."
According to an Israel Radio poll released last week, support for
the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu joint candidate list dropped from 39
seats in December to 34 (out of 120 total seats in the parliament).
Bennetts Jewish Home party gained three in the same time period,
bringing its projected total up to 14 seats. The Likud-Yisrael
Beiteinu parties control 42 seats altogether in the outgoing
parliament, while Jewish Home, together with a second party it
teamed up with, control 7 seats.
Jewish Home campaign material portrays Bennett as everyones
favorite army buddy, and he addresses voters as achi (Hebrew slang
for bro), reflecting how he has tried to appeal to unifying motifs
for Israeli Jews. In commercials, he expresses frustration with
Israels inconclusive military campaigns against Hamas and laments
that the media isnt patriotic enough, while waxing nostalgic for a
time when Israelis could be proud of the Jewish state without
"feeling ashamed." He calls for an end to the "hateful discourse"
between secular and religious Jews in Israel, and between left and
"I love the land of Israel, I love the people of Israel, the
Torah of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces," he says. "I love our
soldiers. If you feel like me, you have a home."
But, in a nod to the broad Israeli public, he tells audiences
that the land of Israel is not the central issue of Jewish Home.
Bennett has also borrowed some of the populist themes of Israels
socio-economic protest movement of 2011, vowing to bring down real
estate prices, fight against the concentration of businesses in the
hands of Israels tycoons, break up powerful unions and help young
working families who cant make ends meet a situation he described
as "anti-Zionist" to his Russian audience in Tel Aviv. …