As Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday, David Remnick writes for The New Yorker:
At a makeshift theatre in the port of Tel Aviv, hundreds of young immigrants from Melbourne, the Five Towns, and other points in the Anglophone diaspora gathered recently to hear from the newest phenomenon in Israeli politics, Naftali Bennett. A forty-year-old settlement leader, software entrepreneur, and ex-Army commando, Bennett promises to build a sturdy electoral bridge between the religious and the secular, the hilltop outposts of the West Bank and the start-up suburbs of the coastal plain.
This is something new in the history of the Jewish state. Bennett is a man of the far right, but he is eager to advertise his cosmopolitan bona fides. Although he was the director general of the Yesha Council, the main political body of the settler movement, he does not actually live in a settlement. He lives in Ra’anana, a small city north of Tel Aviv that is full of programmers and executives. He is as quick to make reference to an episode of “Seinfeld” as he is to the Torah portion of the week. He constantly updates his Facebook page. A dozen years ago, he moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to seek his fortune in high tech, and his wife, Gilat, went to work as a pastry chef at chic restaurants like Aureole, Amuse, and Bouley Bakery. Her crème brûlée, he declares proudly, “restored the faith of the Times food critic in the virtues of crème brûlée.”
Closer to his ideological core is an unswerving conviction that the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem might as well relinquish their hopes for a sovereign state. The Green Line, which demarcates the occupied territories from Israel proper, “has no meaning", he says, and only a friyer, a sucker, would think otherwise. As one of his slick campaign ads says, “There are certain things that most of us understand will never happen: ‘The Sopranos’ are not coming back for another season...and there will never be a peace plan with the Palestinians.” If Bennett becomes Prime Minister someday—and his ambition is as plump and glaring as a harvest moon—he intends to annex most of the West Bank and let Arab cities like Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin be “self-governing” but “under Israeli security".
“I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he says of the Palestinians. No more negotiations, “no more illusions.” Let them eat crème brûlée.
Onstage, he waited as a nervous host flambéed the introduction: “He loves a good run! His favorite ice cream is pistachio! And his favorite movie is ‘The Shawshank Redemption’!...Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Naftali Bennett!” Bennett acknowledged the applause and stepped to the lip of the stage. He is modest in height and wears a plain open-neck shirt and khakis. Like many Israeli men faced with the first sign of male-pattern baldness, he mows his hair close to the skull. He wears a small kippa — knitted, like those worn by religious Zionists and modern Orthodox, but not large and knitted, like those of more radical settlers among them.
He looked grave. The previous Friday, the Prime Minister, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, had gone on three evening television shows to blast Bennett for having declared that he would refuse any order to expel Jews from a settlement. Not that Israel intends to dismantle settlements anytime soon—on the contrary, construction proceeds apace, “facts on the ground” accumulate—but this debating point touched on a crucial matter. Bennett talks about “reviving” Zionism through an infusion of “Jewish values,” including a sense of the sacredness of the land, but he is also a man of the military, and it would not do, as a soldier or as a candidate, to endorse a campaign of disobedience. Finally, Bennett recanted. And yet somehow he felt wronged.