Bennet Says Will Challenge Netanyahu for PM

YERUSHALAYIM -
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett addressing a Knesset plenary session. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett officially announced Wednesday night that he would run for prime minister in the upcoming election as Israel is “in need of a new leadership.”

“Netanyahu has accomplishments, but when we needed him the most, he was not there for us,” Bennett said. “We must thank him for his years of service, but we must move on.

“I stand before you to announce that I am running for the position of prime minister in order to finally bring about a change so that Israel will have a leadership that takes the citizens into consideration, not itself.

“When I was defense minister, I did everything in my power to protect you, your health, and your livelihood. When the pandemic broke out, I put everything aside. At the end of the first lockdown, I submitted a plan to prevent all future lockdowns that are so destructive, but Netanyahu rejected it.

“The government we set up will be task-oriented. We will focus on curbing the coronavirus, restoring livelihoods, and uniting the people. I will invite to join our government all those parties that want a Jewish and democratic state of Israel, who are willing to put aside their disputes for the time being in order to rescue Israel from the current crisis.”

The Likud responded by saying, “While Bennett is giving a confusing and tedious speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu is leading the world’s fastest vaccination campaign and is determined that, together with the strict lockdown measures, Israel will be the first country to emerge from the pandemic. The prime minister’s efforts made Israel into the country with the most vaccines in the world. He acted swiftly to stop the mutation of the virus, and now Israel has one of the lowest morbidity rates in the world.”

Bennett’s announcement came a day after the 23rd Knesset dissolved, after the government failed to pass the state budget, meaning that Israel will hold a fourth general election in the space of under two years.

Some polls placed Yamina as the second-largest political party after Likud, until Gideon Sa’ar announced his New Hope party. Sa’ar’s entry into the race damaged Yamina’s momentum and left the party with about 13 government seats. Nevertheless, some Yamina members expressed excitement as the party doubled its seats in the government, going from six to 12 seats.

Yamina relies on three electorates in the upcoming elections: religious Zionists, rightwing Likud members who are no longer interested in Netanyahu’s leadership, and center-right voters, perhaps even leftwing voters who have been disillusioned by the government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the party plans to include people with a record of service in the public and private spheres. Bennett will also negotiate with Yamina MK Betzalel Smotrich, who makes up the list with his religious National Union-Tekuma party, in an attempt to reach agreements on compiling the list and other substantial issues.