Bennett ready for new elections, will ask for defense portfolio

If new elections are held, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, says he will demand the defense portfolio and might even run for prime minister.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party and Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs, seemingly has his eyes on bigger prizes. As the current coalition faces a crisis over the ultra-Orthodox parties’ demand to start the process to legalize the right of full-time Torah students to be exempted from draft duty, talk of early elections has heated up.

Another factor that could play a role in a decision for early elections is the ongoing investigations into possible criminal behavior on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who might call for a snap vote ahead of a possible indictment. And Bennett says he is ready.

If Netanyahu decides to dissolve the coalition, current polls say he and the Likud party would form the next government as well – and that Jewish Home (HaBayit Hayehudi) would get 10-12 seats, possibly making it the second-largest right-wing party. If so, Bennett said on Army Radio on Thursday, he would want to replace Avigdor Liberman in the Defense Ministry in exchange for his party’s support.

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“I’m not going to push out Netanyahu,” he said, “but if he’s prime minister, I definitely intend to demand the defense portfolio next time. I think that’s essential.”

Bennett has defended Netanyahu in both national and international media, saying that he hopes the prime minister prevails and that he is certain he never would have compromised Israel’s interests for personal gain. However, if Netanyahu resigns or is forced out due to what has been dubbed Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, Bennett would go for the top post.

In a Saturday interview with Hadashot TV, Bennett, who had sold his high-tech startup before entering politics and is a member of the security cabinet, put forward his credentials. “I have extensive business, economic, government and security experience, and all of this I intend to bring to fruition,” he stated.

“All the dramatic changes I have made in the education system, I will also bring to security and the economy,” he added.

Bennett also said he may run for prime minister, albeit as leader of his mid-sized national religious party, which has never received more than 10 percent of the seats in the 120-member Knesset, acknowledging that he would need to further open its ranks in order to succeed.