Analysis: Will New Right’s failure spell end to Bennett’s political career?

The New Right party may become the exclamation point on a short political career for Naftali Bennett, once a rising star.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Is this the end of the road for Naftali Bennett?

The up-and-coming leader had big dreams. Serving as education minister in the last government, he had his eye on the defense ministry, viewing it as another notch in his belt, necessary experience to put on his political resume in order to convince the Israeli electorate to award him the main prize – the premiership.

Those dreams may have ended with what is turning into his biggest misstep. In December, Mr. Bennett unceremoniously dropped the Jewish Home party, which he led, in order to found the New Right party.

The Jewish Home is still angry, justifiably so as Mr. Bennett left the party in disarray. In a sign bad blood still exists, senior Jewish Home members on election day disseminated video clips of Mr. Bennett four years ago telling voters to choose Jewish Home. Mr. Bennett complained to the Central Elections Committee, which ordered Jewish Home to cease and desist.

The Jewish Home party only survived the elections because it combined with still smaller religious-Zionist parties.

The bigger problem for Mr. Bennett is that he burned bridges with his national religious base, which is likely to view any political comeback by Mr. Bennett with a jaundiced eye after his shattering act of disloyalty.

Mr. Bennett understands this. In a brief statement before reporters in front of his Ra’anana home last Wednesday morning, the day after the election, he said, “I was always a soldier of the state. … Now the soldiers of the state will decide where I will continue to fight for them. What is certain is that I won’t stop from giving my all for the State of Israel.”

The operative word is “where” – meaning somewhere other than in politics.

Mr. Bennett had hoped the soldiers’ vote, which is counted later, would put him over the top. It did not. The New Right came up 1,461 votes short. No party has missed the threshold by such a small number.

The more important number is 138,491 — those who believed in the New Right and saw their votes wasted. They’ll think twice before signing onto any Bennett ticket in the future.

The New Right had been expected to perform brilliantly at first. When Mr. Bennett announced its formation together with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, (also formerly of Jewish Home) polls showed it gaining 14 seats.

Over the ensuing months, the number dwindled to six seats, still enough to make it into the Knesset. Up until the end, Mr. Bennett was optimistic, talking about the need for his party to win 10 seats if he was to be in a position to demand the defense ministry from Prime Minister Netanyahu in a new government.

He and Mrs. Shaked ran on a platform that combined judicial reform with tough-minded defense policy. “Shaked will deal with the High Court of Justice, Bennett will deal with Hamas,” read their campaign posters.

Now neither will be dealing with either.