Education Minister and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett announced Saturday that he will run as a candidate for prime minister after Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the post.
While praising Israel’s current right-wing government, Bennett said he would bring “dramatic changes” on defense and the economy if elected prime minister.
“After the Netanyahu era I intend to contend for the premiership and all the dramatic changes I have made in the education system, I will also bring to security and the economy,” he said in an interview with Hadashot TV news.
Bennett, a former special forces combat soldier and tech startup CEO, touted his resume as proof of his qualification for the job.
“I have extensive business, economic, government and security experience, and all of this I intend to bring to fruition,” he said. “Since I entered public service I always try to do everything for the state. I have done this in the past and I will do it in the future.”
Bennett said he will run for the premiership as the head of the national-religious Jewish Home, shooting down speculation he would jump ship to the more mainstream Likud, where he served as chief of staff to Netanyahu when the latter was opposition leader from 2006 to 2008. Bennett said, however, that his traditionally pro-settlement party would need to further open its ranks.
“Today the platform is problematic because it is very narrow. It needs to be opened,” he said. “I believe in this platform but the tent needs to be opened to all of the Israeli people.”
After becoming the party’s leader in 2013, Bennett led the Jewish Home to its greatest electoral success, when it won 12 seats in that year’s elections, a large jump from its three seats in the previous Knesset.
Since then, Bennett has sought to attract a larger group of voters to the right-wing party, although it fell to eight seats in the 2015 elections. Television polls in recent months have put the Jewish Home at 10-12 seats if fresh elections were to be called.
Among leading contenders for the premiership on the Israeli right are Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, a powerful Likud figure, and Gideon Sa’ar, a popular former Likud minister who returned to the party this year after a two-and-a-half year hiatus from politics.
Netanyahu has said he intends to head the Likud in the next elections, which are currently scheduled for November 2019, although he is currently being investigated in a pair of corruption investigations involving suspicions he received favors from Israeli media moguls in exchange for advancing their business interests. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Netanyahu has been prime minister since 2009, in addition to a previous stint from 1996-1999, and is the second longest-serving premier in the country’s history after David Ben-Gurion, the modern State of Israel’s first prime minister.