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February 6, 2015 4:30 pm

What Would Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin Say About Naftali Bennett?

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Minister Naftali Bennett at a Bedouin employment center. Photo: Israeli government.

Inevitably, before every Israeli election, there is political maneuvering and jockeying for votes. As an eternal student of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and the Betar movement, I try and view issues of importance through the spectrum of what Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin would say.

Habayit Hayehudi and Naftali Bennett are thought of by some as the party most emulating the vision of the Revisionist Zionist right. Bennett – during only a few short years in politics – has shown that there is nothing more important for Jewish survival than Zionism, and has demonstrated true leadership for the State of Israel. He has also demonstrated responsibility and proven himself to be a formidable force on Israel’s behalf worldwide – from China, where he has worked on behalf of Israel’s economy, to serving as a spokesman in the world media.

In Israel’s upcoming March elections, current polls show that the race is neck and neck between the Netanyahu-led Likud and a joint center/left party – with Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi Party placing third. Bennett’s party fell in polls last week after a brouhaha surrounding the appointment of Israeli former soccer star Eli Ohana to a safe seat in the party. Ohana is a Sephardic (Moroccan) Jew: traditional, secular, and well-known. Yet, Ohana withdrew from Bennett’s party amidst a considerable uproar for a variety of reasons, and Bennett has been condemned for the selection.

Yet, at a time when ideology and intent is largely subservient to political expediency, let’s examine the reasoning and explanations behind the Ohana appointment. When Bennett made the choice, he explained, “HaBayit HaYehudi has been accessible to all the people of Israel for a very long time now. This debate is over. When we have a secular woman in the No. 1 spot on the list, followed by Rabbi Eli Dahan, Yinon Magal and Ronen Shoval; when we have people from the army; when we have Ashkenazi and Sephardic [of Middle Eastern/North African origin] Jews; men and women; young and old — the dream has already come true.” His deputy, MK Ayelet Shaked noted, “Naftali [Bennett] wanted to include a traditional Jew of Middle Eastern origin, who had a tough childhood but succeeded.”

This is very similar to language that Menachem Begin used. “In 1977, Menachem Begin came to power, representing, for the first time, a coalition of constituencies that resented the Labor élite and felt excluded from the mainstream of Israeli life. Begin’s support came from the poorer émigrés from North Africa and Arab states; Jabotinskyite conservatives; the ultra-Orthodox; and religious Zionists, including the settlers.” Begin, who spoke so often of the need to incorporate Sephardim into society, would have applauded the concept behind Bennett’s move. This was clearly Naftali Bennett’s intent.

Bennett has quoted Theodore Roosevelt previously, and surely these words resonate now: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

No matter how many seats Bennett’s party wins this election, he is clearly a patriot – and as I wrote recently in Arutz-7, Naftali’s Bennett’s “No Apology” campaign is quite similar to Jabotinsky’s iconic 1920 essay entitled “Go to Hell.”

Interesting times are surely ahead until election day.

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