Bennett said to eye ‘new national camp’ with coalition partners Liberman, Sa’ar

PM says new right-wing political bloc taking shape; Ayelet Shaked’s role said to be unclear, according to unsourced TV report

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Minister of Justice Gideon Sa'ar (right), and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (left), hold a press conference in the Prime Minister's Office on July 6, 2021.  (Amit Shabi/POOL)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Minister of Justice Gideon Sa'ar (right), and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (left), hold a press conference in the Prime Minister's Office on July 6, 2021. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is eyeing a new “national camp,” or right-wing bloc in Israeli politics, that would run together with his Yamina party in the next national elections and would include some of his current political allies such as Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and Gideon Sa’ar New Hope party.

In a series of media interviews released on Thursday, Bennett indicated that plans were in the works to build a new right-wing bloc that would potentially rival the traditional “national camp” led by the Likud party.

“What is being built right now is a new national camp,” he told Israeli journalist Ben Caspit in a Walla interview, adding that, despite heading a politically diverse right-party coalition, he is “still a man of the right [wing].”

Channel 12 reported Friday that Bennett’s vision for a new national camp would include Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope. It also said that the future of Ayelet Shaked, his close political ally and running partner in Yamina, was uncertain amid rising tensions between the two. The TV network’s unsourced report said that Shaked is perceived as having “one foot out the door,” even as other political avenues for her (including with the Likud) were unclear.

Both Shaked and Bennett worked for the Likud’s longtime leader, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and were both believed in recent years to have wanted to join Likud, but Netanyahu and his wife Sara reportedly blocked their entry to the party due to their personal distaste for them. The pair have navigated a rocky political road over the past four years, briefly failing to get into the Knesset in the April 2019 elections after leaving Jewish Home to form the New Right party, and later reuniting to lead the Yamina alliance.

Current tensions between Bennett and Shaked reportedly stem, in part, from her disquiet over some of Yamina’s coalition partners. In October, Shaked sharply criticized Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, whom she called “shallow,” and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, casting doubt on whether the premiership rotation agreement between Bennett and Lapid would be honored come 2023.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at the first government conference, at the Israeli parliament, on June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The national camp has for decades been led by the Likud party and has included various right-wing as well as religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. Bennett’s Yamina party was previously part of the national camp prior to the formation of the current ruling coalition in June 2021, as was Yisrael Beytenu up until the April 2019 elections (which were followed by another three elections that finally led to the formation of the government led by Yamina’s Bennett). The Netanyahu-led opposition right-wing bloc currently also includes the far-right Religious Zionism party, led by Bezalel Smotrich, a former political partner of Bennett.

Bennett’s narrow unity coalition is upheld by centrist parties Yesh Atid, led by Lapid, and Blue and White, headed by Gantz, as well as Yisrael Beytenu, New Hope, Labor, Meretz, and the United Arab List (Ra’am).

Since the formation of the coalition, Bennett has been consistently assailed by the Likud party, led by Netanyahu who had governed Israel since 2009. The Likud and its allies have called Bennett’s right-wing bona fides into question and have accused him of betraying the right after he vowed in the 2021 election campaign not to join forces with Lapid.

In a Ha’aretz interview Thursday, Bennett recalled a meeting he held with Netanyahu last May, a month before the current coalition took office, in which he said the longtime leader began issuing wild threats against him once it became clear that Bennett would be joining his rivals in forming a government, pushing the longtime premier from power.

Israel’s outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with his successor, incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, after a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)

“You should know that I’ll send my whole machinery against you, the army,” Bennett quoted Netanyahu as telling him, adding that the Likud leader made a dive bomber motion with his arm. “I’ll send the UAVs after you, and we’ll see.”

The Haaretz interviewer then asked Bennett, “I assume [Netanyahu] didn’t mean the IDF or the air force?”

“No. He was talking about his army of bots, the [social media] groups, his people on the radio, TV and online,” Bennett reportedly responded. (Bennett’s interpretation of what Netanyahu meant by the threat was not included in interview excerpts published by Haaretz on Thursday, but was included in a Channel 13 report quoting the interview).

Bennett additionally accused Netanyahu of “spreading chaos, hysteria and a lack of faith” in the current government.

In his interview with Caspit, Bennett suggested a new national camp was needed because the current dominant thread in the right-wing camp, shaped by a political culture developed by Netanyahu (known informally as Bibi), was showing signs of strain.

“Bibi-ism has turned a bit on its creator recently,” Bennett said, referencing recent reports that suggested Netanyahu was close to reaching a potential plea bargain in his ongoing corruption trial but wavered amid pressure from followers and supporters. Netanyahu had reportedly been eyeing a plea deal that would have included a clause of “moral turpitude” — which would bar him from public office for seven years.

Netanyahu “was willing to close the deal and they told him ‘you’re not closing the deal, you are staying,'” Bennett said in the interview.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed