Bennett inspires in Sydney
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Bennett inspires in Sydney

"I'm convinced that given the backlash, and if we just understand each other ... we can solve it. I think something good will come out of all of this."

Former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett in Sydney. 
Photo: Giselle Haber
Former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett in Sydney. Photo: Giselle Haber

The ongoing protests in Israel against the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial reforms “should bring pride to every Jew in the world”, Naftali Bennett told 1200 UIA supporters in Sydney on Sunday night.

“This is what democracy looks like in action. You’ve got hundreds of thousands of good Israelis that are going out to demonstrate,” the former Israeli prime minister said.

“These are not anarchists. They’re not radicals. They’re my best friends from my [army] unit. We have a WhatsApp group, half of them are out in the demonstration.”

Bennett, who led Israel from June 2021 until the collapse of his diverse coalition in June 2022, spoke for nearly an hour about his time as premier, mediating between Putin and Zelensky, the current divisions in Israel, the proposed reforms, Iran and more.

He labelled the growing polarisation in the Jewish State “probably the biggest domestic crisis Israel has had”.

“There’s really two tribes emerging and there are people who are working hard to create these two tribes,” he explained, blaming “politics of identity”.

“There’s even this new terminology in Israel, ‘first Israel’ and ‘second Israel’ – first Israel being generally speaking, Ashkenazi, secular, liberal, centre-left, versus second Israel being Likud-voting, traditional, Sephardi. And it’s become that there’s rage between the two.”

Rejecting this, Bennett said, “I believe in one Israel, Am Israel echad. We just need to calm things down.”

He labelled the judicial reform debate “the manifestation” of the battle between the two groups.

“My opinion is we need judicial reform, but not the judicial reform that’s being suggested,” he said.

Bennett identified two issues with the system that need fixing.

“First of all, it’s not diverse enough. The Supreme Court has been for decades a closed club and they would appoint typically folks who are very similar in their opinions, and it doesn’t fairly represent the diversity of the Israeli public,” he said.

“The second problem is that the Supreme Court of Israel has become too activist. A Supreme Court needs to protect the basic rights of all Israelis against potential executive violations. They are not a second opinion of governmental decisions.”

But he said the proposed reforms “don’t solve this. They make it even worse”.

He suggested a compromise could be “fairly easy”.

“I’m convinced that given the backlash, and if we just understand each other … we can solve it. I think something good will come out of all of this.”

Bennett also addressed the formation and achievements of his short-lived coalition – widely acknowledged as the most diverse in Israel’s history, and the first to include an Arab party – calling it “one of the most effective governments in Israel’s history”.

“We got the budget through with amazing reforms. We provided the children of Sderot and Be’er Sheva with the quietest and most secure year in their lives,” he said.

“We fixed the economy, from one of the highest unemployment rates we got everyone back to work, we reduced the deficit, brought inflation down.

“But most importantly we proved to ourselves, and to me for that matter – something I had not thought is possible – that we can work together, left and right, religious and secular, Arabs and Jews.”

Bennett was full of praise for Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Arab Islamist Ra’am party.

“He’s a true leader. And as a Zionist, as a right-wing guy, I want him to succeed because Israel needs that approach of working together to succeed,” he said.

“So the government worked extremely well. And it turned out that all these folks that I admit I had a degree of prejudice [about], they love Israel just the way I do, not one gram less,” he said.

“They’re not less patriotic than I am. We just have different opinions on how to go about things.”

Amid Israel’s current divisions, he said the “only way forward” for Israel is a unity government.

“We have to have everyone in the tent,” he said.

“I’m talking about Likud, I’m talking about [Yair] Lapid, I’m talking about [Benny] Gantz, I’m talking about the Charedim, the left, the right, bring them all in.”

Turning his attention to Iran, Bennett said the Islamic Republic employed an “octopus strategy” with the head in Tehran and its proxies as the tentacles on Israel’s borders.

“What we’ve been doing, what I did my entire life in the military, was fight the fingertips of the octopus,” he said.

But under his premiership, he said the focus shifted to fighting Iran in Tehran, listing a number of strikes on Iranian assets and personnel reported in the international media, in which per its policy, Israel did not confirm or deny its involvement.

“Iran is way, way more feeble and vulnerable than we imagine. It’s a paper tiger,” he said.

“It’s a crumbling regime. Not because it’s radical, because it’s corrupt, it’s incompetent. I don’t know when it will implode, but it will.

“We just need to be on the offensive, keep them on the defensive, hit them in Tehran again and again and again, so they have to deal with defending themselves and don’t have the resources to focus on hitting our children.”

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