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Who Are Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid?

July 8, 2021

by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer

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The Israeli Knesset

To Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid,

Congratulations on forming a government. I want to assure you both that Bridges for Peace will pray for you daily, for wisdom, strength, courage and the ability to bring unity to a hurting nation.

As a Christian leader who has lived in Israel for more than 30 years, I have seen the leadership of many prime ministers: Shamir, Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, Olmert, Netanyahu again and now Bennett. I have lived through two intifadas (uprisings), Oslo, disengagement from Gaza, leaving Lebanon, Scud missiles from Saddam Hussein, suicide bombers, the Second Lebanon War and conflicts with Gaza.

While Christian supporters of Israel didn’t wholly agree with all the decisions which were made by these leaders, they never stopped supporting Israel and the Jewish people. Bible-believing Christians support Israel unconditionally, because we love the God of Israel; we read the Bible and see Israel throughout. It isn’t possible for us to love God and not love the Jewish people.

We will remain firm friends. We identify with the words of the Gentile Moabitess, Ruth, as she told Jewish Naomi, “Your God will be my God.” So I confidently say: Israel, you are not alone.

Let us introduce the rest of you to our new friends in Israel!

–Rebecca J. Brimmer

International President and CEO

—-

As part of a rotating leadership agreement, Naftali Bennett will serve as Israel’s prime minister for two years, followed by coalition partner Yair Lapid. Though Bennett’s Yamina Party won only seven of the 120 Knesset (Parliament) seats after the last election, he became the kingmaker when he was courted by both Netanyahu and Lapid to join their coalitions. Bennett clasped Lapid’s outstretched hand and joined the “change coalition,” ousting Netanyahu from his record-breaking 12-year tenure and linking arms with right-wing, left-wing, centrist and an Arab party to form Israel’s most diverse government.

Naftali Bennett

Naftali Bennet

Once an ally of former Prime Minister Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett describes himself as ideologically to the right of Netanyahu. Bennett is a hardline Zionist who opposes the two-state solution, advocates for Jewish communities in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria—the so-called “West Bank”—and pushes for firm responses to attacks on Israel’s sovereignty. A high-tech millionaire, Bennett is also a religiously observant Orthodox Jew and the first prime minister to regularly don a kippah (skullcap).

Background

Born in Haifa in 1972 to immigrants from San Francisco, Bennett, like Netanyahu, speaks fluent American English. During his time in the military, Bennett served in the elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit—where former Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Ehud Barak also served. Bennett then studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before moving to New York to make his fortune in the high-tech world. He co-founded an anti-fraud online company that was sold for US $145 million in 2005 (and later served as CEO of an Israeli start-up that sold for somewhere between US $100–130 million in 2013). After conquering business-tech, Bennett returned to his homeland a self-made success before diving into his next challenge: politics.

Rise to the Top

Bennett began his political career in 2006 as Netanyahu’s chief of staff and a member of the Likud Party. In 2010, he served as head of the Yesha Council, an organization that lobbies for Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. Bennett left Likud in 2012 to join the religious Zionist Jewish Home Party before co-founding the New Right Party in 2018 (which allied with other right-wing parties to form the Yamina joint slate in 2020).

Bennett and Netanyahu remained political allies and sat together in coalitions. Netanyahu even appointed Bennett as defense minister in 2019. Having served in multiple cabinet roles, such as Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, Education, Economy and Trade, and Defense, Bennett now finds himself at the top—for the next two years.

Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid

In 2023, Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party leader Yair Lapid will assume the role of Israel’s prime minister. The centrist TV-host-turned-politician is known for being moderate in his political leanings. Lapid, though ambitious, reportedly made few demands for himself or his allies while negotiating a coalition but quietly stuck to his guns while pursuing Bennett, who vacillated before finally joining the change coalition.

Background

Born in Tel Aviv in 1963, Lapid is the son of Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, a secular journalist/commentator, and Shulamit Lapid, a well-known writer. Tommy Lapid later moved into politics, forming the centrist Shinui (Change) Party and served as deputy prime minister from 2003–2004.

Like his father, Lapid started as a journalist, working as a reporter during his military service and afterward writing newspaper columns. After dabbling as an actor, screenwriter and novelist, he became a news anchor in the 1990s.

Political Rise

After a decade in the media, Lapid shifted into politics in 2012 and started his Yesh Atid Party, focusing on domestic issues, such as improving life for the middle class, anti-corruption and education reform.

In 2013, Yesh Atid stunned by winning 19 seats and becoming the second largest party in the Knesset. Lapid joined a coalition with Netanyahu and was awarded the position of finance minister, until Netanyahu dismissed him in 2014. Afterward, he had varying success in election results but never lost his grip in the opposition.

When former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz entered politics in 2019, Lapid jumped to merge their parties and form the Blue and White joint list to challenge Netanyahu. Three inconclusive elections later, the nation found itself in a political stalemate amid a global pandemic. Desperate to break the gridlock, Gantz agreed to an emergency unity government with Netanyahu, angering Lapid, who parted ways with Blue and White. The unity government dissolved less than a year later.

Then the March 2021 elections came. Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats, while Yesh Atid won 17. Netanyahu was unable to negotiate a majority coalition, and the mandate was passed to Lapid, who presented his broad coalition just 30 minutes before the deadline. Since its swearing in, Lapid has called for unity and finding common ground on which to move the country forward.

Though Bennett and Lapid seem unlikely coalition partners, they have reportedly agreed to set aside their major differences and focus on domestic issues.

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