Who Is Naftali Bennett? Benjamin Netanyahu Replacement Sees Israel Shift Further Right

On Sunday, Naftali Bennett became Israel's new prime minister after the Israeli parliament approved a new coalition government, effectively ending Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year premiership. A tech millionaire turned right-wing politician, Bennett could usher Israel into a more aggressively nationalist era than his predecessor—particularly as it pertains to the Palestinians.

Bennett, a 49-year-old adherent to Orthodox Judaism, is widely perceived as a religious ultra-nationalist politician. He has acknowledged being "more right-wing" than Netanyahu, whose coalition governments saw Bennett hold multiple ministerial roles. Bennett has served as minister of economy and religious services, diaspora affairs, education, and defense. When Netanyahu was opposition leader from 2006 until 2008, Bennett worked as his chief of staff.

After leaving Netanyahu's Likud party, Bennett went on to lead The Jewish Home, a religious right-wing party, into securing 12 seats in the Knesset in 2013. He departed from The Jewish Home in 2018 to form the New Right party, which suffered a political blow after failing to gain a single seat in the Knesset following April 2019 elections. In a September vote held that same year, right-wing party alliance Yamina, with Bennett as its leader, won seven parliamentary seats.

Bennett is known for fervently rejecting any prospects of a Palestinian state, which he had once called "suicide." When staunchly pro-Israel former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, then-Education Minister Bennett hailed his win by stating: "The era of a Palestinian state is over." On a separate occasion, Bennet said: "It's either [Israeli] sovereignty or Palestine."

As Netanyahu prepared to embark on a trip to Washington, D.C. for talks with then-President Trump in 2017, Bennett publicly cautioned him against even mentioning the words "two-state solution."

Bennett has fiercely advocated for Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories, which are deemed illegal under international law. At one point, Bennett led the Yesha Council, which represents and promotes settlements. He has also supported annexing most of the West Bank.

Bennett, who has served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), was alleged to have advocated for killing Palestinian prisoners by stating: "I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that." He later denied ever making those comments, but said any "terrorist" who endangers the life of an Israeli soldier "should be eliminated."

Bennett also supports a "shoot to kill" policy for Palestinians who crossed the Gaza border into Israel. When asked whether this applied to children as well, he responded: "They are not children—they are terrorists."

As Israeli authorities investigated widespread bush fires in 2016, Bennett accused Israel's Arab minority of arson by tweeting: "Only those to whom the land doesn't belong are able to burn it." When an Arab Knesset member argued against settlements, Bennett responded: "When you were still swinging from trees, we had a Jewish state here."

Bennett was born in Haifa to American Jewish parents who had moved to Israel from San Francisco. He grew up to work as a tech entrepreneur in New York City, co-founding and serving as CEO of anti-fraud software Cyota. Bennett became a multimillionaire after selling his company for $145 million in 2005. Following his IDF service, Bennett was called up to reserve duty during the 2006 Lebanon War, an experience he has credited for steering him to politics.

Bennett's term as prime minister will end in 2023, when the rotating premiership will be handed to Yair Lapid, who leads the centrist Yesh Atid party.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, demonstrates the total time in office served by Bennett's predecessors:

The longest-serving Israeli prime ministers
A graphic illustrating the total time in office served by Israel's prime ministers. STATISTA
Naftali Bennett addresses lawmakers at the Knesset
Head of Israel's right-wing Yamina party Naftali Bennett addresses lawmakers during a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. Bennett has become Israel's new prime minister after the Knesset approved a new coalition deal, effectively ending Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year rule. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images