Israel’s former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has likened protestors rallying against proposed judicial reform in Israel to freedom fighters.
“It’s wonderful to be here. I feel at home,” he told a 350-strong audience in a thirty minute wide-ranging speech at UJIA’s campaign launch dinner at Kensington Palace on Wednesday evening.
Taking to the stage as the event’s keynote speaker, Bennett said the Yom Kippur War had changed everything for his family; that before the 1973 conflict, his parents didn’t have a particularly strong connection to Israel. They returned to the US after his mother found living in a kibbutz in the young state too challenging.
But at the onset of the war, “my Dad got on the first plane he could find and fought,” he said. On then returning to Israel, his parents “felt different. They felt Israeli. Because they’d fought in a war. It changed everything. We stayed in Israel because of the Yom Kippur War.”
Whilst minister of economy and minister of education, Bennett said he “made it my business to be minister of Diaspora affairs which was not considered prestigious. But I did it because I think that it’s one of the top three missions of any Prime Minister and the State of Israel.
“We need a strong Jewish Diaspora to strengthen Israel, it’s true. It makes a huge difference. That’s what we are about. Jews take care of Jews. If a Jew in Morocco is hurt, I feel pain.”
Bennett said the Diaspora should be worried about the ongoing political situation in Israel. “It’s a very complicated situation. This thing is incredibly solvable. If two sides come in with good will, it’s four hours. It’s easy.”
He spoke of the undercurrent of division in society, being “fermented and heated up for political reasons”, that he is “a bit angry about it. I try not to be but it angers me but it’s being artificially inflated.”
Calling Israel “an amazing miracle”, Israel’s 13th Prime Minister said that seventy five years on from the establishment of the state of Israel, reinventing social disparities between Ashkenazi and Sephardi for political use is “horrible and wrong.”
He added: “Everyone is whining about the problem but I want to talk about the solution: reverting back to a government like my government.”
“Am Y’Israel (the People of Israel) is learning the hard way that extremes are not good. Sometimes you have to go through it in order to understand. I believe mainstream Israel does not like what is going on and what we need is to revert. And that’s why the government we ran is a model of what we can do.”
Whilst Bennett said he couldn’t anticipate “what will happen tomorrow politically” he was certain that the next government “has to be and will be a unity government with all the main players in Israel working together to fix the mess. Because it is a mess. People are waking up.”
Concluding, Bennett said he’d always been Right wing in his opinions. “I still am. It’s not changed. I think moderacy and pragmatism is more important right now than pushing my personal ideology. I’m a radical moderate right now.”
He added that his short-lived unity government “presented an image of what Israel can be and what Israel will be.”
As to the job of the wider Diaspora, Bennett said: “I want you to be proud of Israel. I know there’s a lot of consternation and confusion. But look at this: what we are seeing is hundreds of thousands, no millions of Israeli’s fighting for freedom, fighting for their country on both sides. Caring for their country. And Baruch Hashem, with all this year of craze, god bless no blood was spilled.
“When we talk about Israel as a light upon nations, this is a beautiful example of a nation that gets up and fights like a lion for its future, caring for its future and fighting together. Israel’s democracy will prevail.”
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