Profile: Naftali Bennett: leader of Israel's Habayit Hayehudi party

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-1-22 9:31:08

As Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday for general elections that public opinion polls predict will re-elect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one main change in the political scene would be the emergence of a new political force, Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party.

Habayit Hayehudi, a small nationalist-religious party which in the last 2009 elections received only three seats in Israel's Knesset (parliament), is expected to receive at least four or five times of that number in the upcoming elections.

The reason for this surge is a charismatic leader who is now taking hundreds of thousands of votes away from Netanyahu's Likud.

Until very recently, the 40-year-old Naftali Bennett was virtually unknown to the great majority of Israelis.

His political message has been a mixture of hard-right principles on the future of Israel's relationship with the Palestinians and liberal ideas on social issues. According to the polls, many young voters are planning to vote for him this week.

This is the first time Bennett is running for office. The former high-tech entrepreneur was Netanyahu's chief of staff six years ago, when the current prime minister was the leader of the opposition. A year and a half ago, Bennett was director general of the YESHA Council, a political lobby group that represents the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Bennett is resolutely opposed to a Palestinian state. He advocates the annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank to Israel and prepared the remaining 40 percent for the Palestinians to " have a limited form of autonomy and self-rule."

Bennett symbolizes a new style of Israeli politics, a leadership with self-doubt or question marks which appeals to people who are tired with Netanyahu and the other boring and discredited politicians, Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist and political analyst for Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz said.

Bennett's is predicted to win around 14 seats in the new Knesset. Netanyahu will still lead Likud, the largest party, but may need Habayit Hayehudi to form his new coalition government.

Posted in: Mid-East

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