Former Prime Minister Mister Naftali Bennett. Hello. -What are you up to these days? I'm living my life, on the practical level, I give lectures all over the world, and here in Israel I volunteer by giving talks to youths before their military service, kids in the periphery of Israel, kids in Mechinot. Tonight I'm meeting a group of teens that are about to join the IDF. Those are two of the things, and I'm also a little active in the hi-tech arena. Investments and involvement in a few companies.
What are you going to tell them tonight? What is the one thing you'll say before they're recruited? Try hard. It isn't about talent you're born with, it's about making an effort. Because you know… the younger generation thinks that "stars are born", and that's not true. I think all, or at least most of success in life has to do with effort.
That's also how I try to raise my own kids, not always successfully. -Yeah, that's what I thought. Those are not good news for me either, if it's just about effort, but… I learned that from… and I've said so in the past, I learned it from Emanuel Moreno, blessed be his memory, who was my best friend. He really made it to the top in the IDF, but the incredible thing about him was that he wasn't born with amazing super-talents.
He wasn't the best sharpshooter, he wasn't the best at navigation, but he made it furthest, because he worked harder than anyone else to improve. Which is why anyone is capable… of going a long way. You held his… didn't you? At his wedding, you held a pillar of his huppa.
That's right. He was the witness at my wedding. We have a photo in the living room, of him signing the ketuba. Can you explain why we're not allowed to see his photo? An explanation you can give us? Well, generally, because our enemies can do "reverse engineering".
They can reverse engineer the image and say: "Oh, I saw him here and here, and in retrospect, compromise Israel's security interests. Amazing. Okay, maybe we'll talk about Moreno. The lectures, have you already… Have you started giving these talks around the world? -Yes, yes. I have spoken in the US, and am going to Australia soon. What have you learned from these talks? The world is really… in a state of polarization, there is extreme polarity within countries.
Look at what happened in the Capitol, and in Brazil. It's all over the world. As if the world suddenly went crazy about eight or ten years ago, and they're looking for a solution, and they saw in the government I led, the most diversified government in history, and how that could be a certain format for people with very differing views to work together and achieve things. Otherwise, things are just stuck. Otherwise things get stuck, you talk to the walls, and these things happening now have never happened before, and it's very harmful to the nations themselves. Incidentally, that's a flaw of democracies.
That doesn't exist in authoritarian regimes. On the way over here, I thought of a metaphor that can explain it well, I thought that we choose or vote for our representatives in the Knesset, but we don't have a referendum for every question, because we realize that our leaders must sometimes make decisions that are difficult. If you were to ask the people whether to raise taxes, everyone would be against it, but it's imperative.
In this age, there seems to be a referendum on everything. -That's right. Because the leader comes and says, let's say we want to condemn Elora Azaria, but there was a referendum on the social networks and they said… that means that nobody has the ability to rise above the moment and create some higher interest, so everything is stuck. And that's the test. You're very right. The minute we get into a situation where everything is automatic, knee-jerk reactions, we have the "Bibi" bloc, and the "everything but Bibi" bloc, and every response is automatic, we don't examine things as they are, and then there is also a severance of the connection between the performance and achievements of a minister or politician and the return they get. And that politician will have no interest to work hard and take care of the traffic jams, or take care of immigration, or the economy, because it's enough for them to yell at their political rivals, they don't feel the need to work.
So it's really dangerous. This is happening in the US, it's happening in many nations now, it has a lot to do with social media, and we have to solve that problem. We must solve it, or we will not exist.
And those eighteen months, the year and a half in which you were Prime Minister, or the 18 months of the Government of Change, what did that prove? That the problem hasn't been solved. Or maybe its very existence proved that the problem can be solved? -Both. It was a government of tremendous success and incredible failure.
The tremendous success - we showed a model, at least I discovered about myself, that I am capable of working with people whose opinions are very different to mine. In a thousand years, I would never have believed that I would share a cabinet with Merav Michaeli or Nitsan Horowitz, and certainly not sit in a coalition with Mansur Abbas, but once you tear away the stigmas you have in advance, some of which I helped create, and that's true of me as well, there were stigmas and preconceptions about me, once you do that and you can see that usually these are well-meaning people, people who want to contribute and help their country, and if you lower your automatic resistance and opposition, you can really get things done. I'll give you an example. In the relatively early days of the government, we went to the Golan Heights with some pretty radical left-wing activists, and passed a decision to double the population in the Golan Heights, something that would never have been conceived in the past. And you can start getting along when you remove the automatic stigmas. There's one thing that's very easy to do, and I say, I've done it before, as have others, and that's coloring a person on the basis of one statement they made 12 years ago, Merav Michaeli said in an interview on the radio once, that she wouldn't let her kids go to the army.
Now it's really easy to stick that onto her and define everything that she is based on that statement. She isn't like that. but she too comes from the love of the nation, as she sees it.
Moreover, Israeli society, the Israeli media, has a tendency to say: "but you said…", this or that, instead of accepting and honoring the more moderate and updated statement, they prefer to attack you for something you said in the past. Okay, so he said it, you can see that he's trying to change his mind. That's true of Abbas, and it's true of Ben Gvir. -Absolutely. Who, at a certain point, said: "I'm not the person I was at age 17."
So let him be different, let him evolve. -Absolutely. People evolve throughout life. We are not static creatures, and it's a good thing we evolve. And we, as the Israeli public, it's in our best interests that our publicly elected officials mature and take on a deeper, wider perspective, and a more moderate view of Israeli society.
So standing now with a stopwatch and telling Ben Gvir "you didn't go to Temple Mount like you promised" that isn't smart. We need to do what's right for this country, and not get stuck on being committed to some saying that may not be of service to our country today. All right? And that's why this method is a very bad method. In America there is a term called: "Whataboutism" which means, if you make an argument, people immediately say: "But what about… 13 years ago, when you said such and such."
All right, let's talk about the issues. -Yes. But in fact, look, personally I experienced a very big shock when we formed the government with everything that happened, because for me, it was really my vision that… I really believed that Matan Kahana or Nir Barkat or… Matan Kahana and Omri Bar Lev, they agree on 80 percent of the things, I believed in that and saw our society was divided. And when you made it happen, to me that was a dream come true.
It wasn't perfect, there was no Likud, no… but I said, "hey, there are left and right." I thought… I got it at home from my father who studied at a yeshiva, and moved to the Golan Heights and discovered Israeliness, and moderation, I said, "it's happening, this is it." And I didn't foresee the intensity of rage that coalition had. I said, "No, it's impossible. A man lays tefillin at The White House, "it's impossible that my friends from the synagogue are so…" "They can't see it." Can you explain what happened? Where did the hatred of that thing come from? That's the million-dollar question.
There are a few things. One of them has to do with me, and I take responsibility, for an approach that I led throughout the years, which, in the eyes of my constituents, I broke and diverted from. I also made commitments and was unable to meet all of them. Along with that, there is what I called "The poison machine", which is very significant, so it's both. I can elaborate a little. -Explain what "The poison machine" is.
The poison machine is an integration of several systems. It's a system of several thousand, or maybe tens of thousands of fake bots on Facebook and Twitter that support anyone that comes from a certain angle. And they launch vicious attacks against anyone who opposes that angle. It's the people in the media who spread the exact same message. It's the real "Tweeters" who receive the talking points and distribute them. It's the attorneys, whose entire meaning is to file suits all day, against politicians who've been singled out.
It's the people who were hired. There is a paid member of the Likud who stood on "Remembrance Day" while I made a speech and yelled out against me, and he's been on the Likud's payroll for the last couple of years. It's those two guys, I won't repeat their names, who yelled terrible things against Idit Silman, that she does all kinds of things with Arabs, things about her mother and her father. With a violence that is focused entirely on one direction. I didn't correctly estimate the intensity of the thing, and it works. Which means that what happened… The lion's share of the poison machine's work is not just against the opponent, in this case, I was the greatest political rival of let's say, Netanyahu, it first and foremost works inside the bloc to make sure nobody steps out of line.
If a right-wing journalist should express any empathy or gives a break to the Change Government, I never called the government I headed "The Change government". -Yes. He'd be personally attacked. "Three years ago, you did so and so." That journalist would be attacked.
Which means, it's an attack on individuals, which makes people go silent. They say, "Am I crazy? This is my livelihood," and things like that. And slowly, the machine peeled off the defenses, one by one, because a person tells themselves: "I won't be able to take thousands calling me dirty," And I'm not referring to myself. -Yes. -I'm talking about a right-wing journalist. There's also the reverse machine.
There's a machine against Bibi, for instance? -Of course. For many years… You know, the mechanism is different, but for many years, there was a de-legitimization of Netanyahu himself. Way back from the 1990's.
"Who are you? John Sullivan." They said he was a CIA agent. And they spilled his blood too throughout the years. Which means, it exists… I think that today the machine has just become very strong and very well-oiled. I'd like to tell you where I experienced the power of that machine. There was this… I can't really keep up with everything… maybe that is the power of the machine, but they said your mother was in fact not Jewish. Yes. -Now, you know,
I know you, and I knew… you know, I knew that was nonsense. "She isn't Jewish, she isn't Jewish," I dismissed that, and then they started saying, "Reformist conversion, her conversion process was not Jewish." You know, what of all things? I still said, that didn't affect me, I mean I said, "Naftali Bennett is Jewish", but I said, at some point I found myself asking Sherki "Say, what's the deal with… "was her conversion controversial or…?" I mean, suddenly about three percent of that fake managed to penetrate my consciousness.
It didn't make me think differently of you, but I said, "maybe her conversion was of the kind that not everyone recognizes." Now, this never happened. That's unbelievable.
My mother and father, god rest his soul, my mother comes from generations of Jews, from Poland and Russia and so on. That's undisputed. And then we started getting… all sorts of friends called her and said, "It's great that you converted." And she said, "But I never did." Now these are things I blew off.
But the lies that spread the fastest are the biggest lies. So there was the lie about my mother being a gentile. There was the lie about the 53 million shekels we supposedly gave to the Muslim Brotherhood. That was an absolute lie! It never happened. And that caught on and spread very fast. There was a lie claiming I had renovated my house at a cost of 50 million shekels.
That's a total lie. The difference between all three lies is interesting, because the one about your mother is as simple as saying you have horns. She just never converted, there was nothing behind that. It amazes me that you can just… The two others are harder, because there was indeed a renovation for security reasons, and they said, "he was renovating his own private home." -Right. A half-lie is harder to disprove because there were indeed large expenses for security around my home, but not to renovate the house. And then you get all mixed up. I'll tell you some more lies.
They spread the word, to the point that I would get weekly inquiries, that Gilat and I were divorcing, or in arbitration procedures, that I beat her. Things like that. -Wow. Things that never happened. Time and again, I was asked about these things. I'll tell you a story. It was incredible… I dismissed it.
Early on, only a few weeks after I came into office, I went to Training Base 1, for an officers' training ceremony, and I got up to make a speech. The crowd gave me a warm welcome, it was heart-warming, I stood by Chief of Staff Kochavi and it was all very nice, I was speaking, a young cadet passed out, out of courtesy, I stopped my speech for a moment while she was being treated, they gave her water, I stopped for about 15 seconds, and then continued my speech. There was applause, I went home, I'm in the helicopter on the way back to the center, and I start getting WhatsApp messages: "We're with you all the way, don't take it too hard."
"We don't understand what they did to you." And I said, "What did they do to me? Nobody did anything, it was very nice." What had happened was, I said, "Send me a link, what are you talking about?" Someone, minutes after I finished my speech, took those 15 seconds of silence, and edited in some yelling against Bennett.
"Bennett is a traitor", "Bennett the crook", all that stuff, and by the way, it was crudely edited. But that was… they created a representation as if the crowd was protesting and yelling. Now… -That was already up and running. -Flying. There's a saying that goes: "While the truth is still busy tying its shoelaces, "The lie has already raced around the world." -Right, right. Now try to catch that. -Nobody can.
You can't "undo" something that's already penetrated minds. This was happening every day. Every day for a year. -Who did that? Who would spread the rumors and lies? Was it the machine or…? It was part of the machine, yes. Part of it was initiated, but ultimately, they would follow every day events and manipulate them.
This machine is very dangerous. Because it's like putting… Let's call it VR goggles, on the eyes of millions of Israelis, and creating a reality that is not true. Now if you can't see reality for what it is, then you don't make the right decisions.
It's very dangerous. The social networks didn't invent this method, okay? We know, from previous eras, about propaganda and how it works, but today, social media works to maximize the length of time a person spends online. On Facebook, or Twitter, or TikTok, and they push and promote content that contains rage, that is interesting. So the ability to use social media to spread lies quickly and on a wide scale is something which is unprecedented. Beyond that, beyond being something that affected the stability of your government, you say there is a global danger here. -Of course. Because we're living in an age of chaos.
The world has gone into a global tailspin, about eight or ten years ago. Until then… -Brexit. Take Brexit, for instance, where a nation by referendum made a decision that was so harmful to its own national interests. It meant the destruction of commerce, of imports and exports, of the labor force, suddenly there are customs and protocols. Because of a populist ambition, they set regulations for themselves. -True, things… Or the attack on the Capitol on January 6th.
I'm not getting into whether or not you like Trump, but at the end of the day, millions of Americans believe that the elections were rigged. That they were stolen. -Yes. The same thing happened in Brazil. We can see it everywhere, and this is unprecedented. But ultimately, it's something we can take care of. -What? How?
I'll tell you what my question is. Today, you are… what shall we call it? On a break? Outside of politics… -Yes. -Okay. Now you're looking forward, I'm not asking you "what are you going to do?" I'm not that kind of interviewer, I don't have the acumen to get headlines of that kind, but I will ask, when you think of someone who wants to be Prime Minister, do they need to create a poison machine of their own, because there's no choice, because if I step into a room and there's a bully, I need to strike back, or are there ways around this? That's a very good question. I don't have a good answer for that question. This was something I pondered over as well.
I too could have created a poison machine and started spreading poison, and where would that get us? You need a machine. At least one for distributing information, even if it is real information. I mean, one of my mistakes was not taking that seriously enough. I said, "What? Who will believe that my mother was a Christian?" -Yes.
"Who would believe that? The lie about 53 billion dollars?" You said, "I'll get to work, "I'll do good, what I believe is best for the State of Israel, "and that's what will triumph." -That's right. I thought, and I told the ministers back then, "Listen, let's keep on working. "We'll promote competition in imports, we'll bolster security in Gaza, "We'll start pumping water to here and there, and do good things." "Eventually, the people will feel the difference, "and it will be all right." I was wrong. I was just wrong about that. It doesn't work.
You have to… and I consider this a failure, I'm not saying, "Wow, that was great." I had a theory, that as Prime Minister, you have to spend 95 percent of your time… let's say, I call it, dealing with substance, and not politics. That is really not right. Totally wrong. You have to spend about 40-50 percent on politics, on spokesmanship, on what Netanyahu, I think, does at much higher rates, but in a certain way he's right. If… how do I put this? I can't be a good Prime Minister if I'm not the Prime Minister.
And the basis for everything, is first and foremost, building the power. Meaning, you have to play that game. -You must. So that's very frustrating, because it means you do need a poison machine. You need a machine, it doesn't necessarily have to be a poison machine. And what do you mean "Frustrating?" Anyone who wants to make an impact and build this nation and contribute, has to get into the game. -To roll up their sleeves. I'm not complaining.
Those are the rules of the game. You need to spend much more time dealing with politics, thinking about the feelings of some Knesset member, that's part of your responsibility. And you can't say, "this is beneath my pay grade."
If it's beneath your pay grade, find a different job. I think that… But there is also the desire for the common good. -Of course. I… you know, the way I see myself, my life's mission… is to be, in this respect, "the shadow of moderation", okay? -Yes. My Facebook page reads: "Love will win", and I intentionally put a spotlight on that. There's a desire for that. There is demand for that, but… Okay, so we're asking two questions: Do you have to spend time and effort on politics and public messages, and not only focus on the substance? The answer is yes.
Do you have to go down into the dirt, and to the extremes and all that? No. But there is a problem. Moderation is not sexy. You've never seen a million people on the streets protesting, holding up signs that read "Moderation!" -"It will be okay", right. You don't see that. You see protests against the Oslo Accords, or against the "terrorist government", I don't know, things like that, You don't… In every entity… The moderate people, by nature their frequency is calmer.
Right. So in every organization or movement, or even in business, There is what I call "the rule of 90, 9, and 1". Take Waze, for example, at Waze, 1 percent of the users are those who are passionate about it, who keep Waze up and running. For every new road that is paved, they immediately… -Efrat. Efrat walks on paths on Fridays, Efrat will mark the entire region. And then there are the ten percent, who will occasionally report a traffic jam. -Yes.
And there are the 90 percent who are completely passive, and just enjoy the app. There's something strange, Waze has been telling me lately to pick up some woman called Gila on Frishman street, for a fee. I didn't understand that. -They're probably trying to do…. some carpool service. -No, I mean, if she has no money, why is she on Waze? If she doesn't own a car. I don't get it.
In any case… -By the way, the laughter you hear in the background is our host… Ben Ben Baruch. Thanks, Ben Ben. -Ben Ben is… He's also a comedian on the side… one of the most successful comedians in Israel, but he's actually an employee of mine.
I see. -He rented this… for us. -Thanks for having us. So I described the 90, 9, and 1 rule, is also true of Wikipedia, the vast majority of people use Wikipedia, 1 percent keep it running, and another 9 or 10 percent changed an entry once or twice in their lives. That's true of politics as well. You have the passionate activists, you have people who are moderately active, and you have the 90 precent, which are passive, and only come out to vote.
To have more and more people who are passionate about it, You need something. You need an ideology that is attractive. And it's really hard to inspire and motivate large amounts of people with positive things. It's much easier to… -To frighten them. "Bennett just gave 53 billion shekels"… with that lie, to the Hamas. -Yes. and, "let's rescue the nation."
Or, "Bibi ruining this country, let's save it." -Yes. But there's something else I'd like to say. Attributing all the pain and difficulty the right wing has just to the poison machine… -Okay.
That would also be making it easy for me. -So what else? What other mistakes were made? Look, I don't regret the decision to form the government. It wasn't the plan. It certainly wasn't the plan.
Later I can tell you about the brief sequence of events, but to a very large public, there was a feeling that I had beheaded the leader. And the person who, to them, symbolizes… Netanyahu… who symbolizes, for them, the people who had been oppressed for generations, by the elites. I'll tell you more than that. So tell me about how the government was formed, assuming there was no malicious predetermined plan for building a government with six mandates. -No, the story was… The elections were over, you had… The story was simple. It started with the elections. -Yes.
It was the fourth round of elections, Everyone was… -It was crazy. -Crazy, and the economy was collapsing, we had the highest unemployment rate in decades. There was COVID, there was no budget. -There was huge deficit, there was COVID, and the disaster that was "Operation Guardian of the Walls".
That happened later, but the streets were on fire, and so on, and I came and said a few things that ultimately were contradictory. I said, I won't allow a fifth round of elections to happen. I won't let that happen.
Second, I said, I won't let Lapid be Prime Minister. And I certainly won't sit in a coalition with Mansur Abbas. At the time, I did not consider it. What I did think I would do, I said, if Bibi gets 61 mandates, there will be a government, I'll conduct a good negotiation, I'll be the Minister of Defense, because I know how to negotiate, and I'll continue working for this nation. Just give me one tip for being a good negotiator.
You say you know how. -There are many. There are many tips for that. A lot has to do with your inner feeling, your inner psyche. If you know what you want, you can often get it. -That becomes a reality. Yes, but there are really many tips. -So you said, there were 61. A narrow coalition, I'll be Defense Minister.
Remind me later, I'll tell you about negotiations for my company's exit. I think I've never told it, and I'll give you tips for negotiation. -Okay. Ben Ben, remember.
Then… I told myself, if we don't get as many, I will force it through the fact that I'm not in Bibi's bloc, and not the other bloc, which is "anyone but Bibi." Before the elections I said, I'm not committed to Netanyahu, and I'm not committed to the other bloc. Yes, in that pie chart, they always drew your party outside… Right. There was the Bibi bloc, the "anyone but Bibi", and there was Bennett. -Right. "Yamina". Which is odd, that was new.
True. And I paid a heavy electoral price for that, Because anyone going against Bibi could have won many more votes, but I said, this would be the only way to force some sort of unity. And that was at the back of my mind. The results came in, Netanyahu didn't have 61, but now we had to… someone would have to break some promise… to be able to form a government. Because if everyone was to stick to their promises, we would be going to a fifth, a sixth, a seventh round. And we met. There was a lot of suspicion,
He was very suspicious of me. We met once or twice at Balfour. Sorry, at the Prime Minister's office, and then at Balfour.
Balfour is more intimate, is that important? -Balfour is more intimate. By the way, throughout the years, I never used to meet him at Balfour, but only at the PM's office, this was the first time. So he wanted to say… -Yes. "We're intimate, we're close", and so on. Did you speak Hebrew or English? He would often start in English and then we would speak English… sometimes… don't ask me. And there were two alternatives.
It was either building a government that depended on Ben Gvir, that was his plan. Sorry, that depended on Mansur Abbas, that was his plan. He had met Mansur Abbas at Balfour several times, I… I didn't know Mansur Abbas, it seemed… -"The Muslim Brotherhood." "Muslim Brotherhood", terrorists and all that, I didn't know who he was, and I had a very negative opinion of him without knowing him. The second option was to try and break some people out of Gideon's party, a few MKs, and make them "defect", make them move over to the… we needed two mandates to make it. I went to him.
Our negotiation was very rapid. Within the hour, we decided that I'd be the Defense Minister, I had a lot of power. -Just the two of you? One on one? One on one, and we said… -Do you understand each other? We understood each other very quickly. -Do you also both think fast? I mean, you skipped the… -Netanyahu is very sharp.
And I think I am too, so we… Well there were some courtesies, some small talk, but I'm a veteran of Netanyahu, and he's a veteran of Bennett. Yes. -We know each other's stories. So we decided. "You'll be Defense Minister." We decided that in the fourth year, I'd be Prime Minister, and we both knew that wouldn't happen. -Funny. But there were advantages to that in terms of the political status.
I mean, of course I didn't say "I know it won't happen", but… I knew it would never happen. It's funny that you both sat there and he told you, you'll be the PM in the fourth year… -Yes. –"I'll also give you a spaceship." Well… Didn't it come up? That it was obviously a lie? -No, that… We were both intelligent enough so that… I knew it wouldn't happen, and he knew that I knew that. And that's all right. -But there was no comedy about that. No, there was a little bit of comedy. -What? -Not about… I'll tell you about that in a little bit.
So we understood each other very well, we knew what would and wouldn't happen… which promises would and wouldn't be made, and I had no complaints. That's how it is. But the story was not to close it between us. We finalized it with the other ministers too, a major ministry for Ayelet, for Kahana, and then I said, but Prime Minister, we need a government, I mean, it's lovely that we've reached some agreements here, and we decided we'd try to build… a government that would rely on outside votes from Mansur Abbas.
Originally, by the way, there wasn't any great ideological issue with the Religious Zionist party, I think even Ben Gvir, I'm not sure, I think he even said he wouldn't reject, or maybe he was quiet about it, and then suddenly Smotritch made it a point. Some say he wanted to get me out of the Right, and push me towards the left, or something. -Or maybe it was ideology. Maybe, maybe. Maybe it was ideological too.
Eventually… so it got stuck. But I also realized that Netanyahu… He wasn't pushing it hard enough. And from meeting to meeting, his key demand moved over to me. And what did he want? He said, "You will announce that there is no way you will form a government with Lapid."
The meaning of such a declaration was that there would be a fifth election, if he can't form a coalition. So I said… -But his claim was that if you didn't not say that, maybe you would get some defectors. Right, and I'm not rejecting that claim. It… it holds water. I don't think defectors would have moved over to you. In our negotiations, they said there were already two. -Yes.
I said, okay, please, I'd like to talk to them. He said, fine, give me a representative. Your representative will meet those two at night in some dark corner. And we kept setting up the meeting, and they never showed up, time and again. I said to Netanyahu, look, there aren't any… You said it, I didn't say it, and it doesn't exist.
You… -okay. -But his claim is not without… There is a certain chance that… In politics, these things sometimes happen. -Right. But I wasn't willing to risk going to a fifth round of elections. -Yes. And of course, he promised to give us seats in the Likud and all that. Which is not a bad offer. -Yes,
but I wasn't interested in that. I didn't want to go to fifth elections. -I see. I thought that would be a disaster. And then his entire focus was on, "Announce you aren't going to form an alternative government."
I said, "I'm not going to do that. "You have my party's seven mandates, "but let's focus on building a coalition. Forget about me, I'm with you." And I could see he was not there.
And then he started… how can I say it? Half threatening, half picturing what would happen to me if I were to try and build a coalition. He said… how do you say it? Drones. -Yes, drones. He said, "Look, you're making a big mistake." "You… we'll portray you as a traitor, "We'll burn you forever."
And he said, "We'll send an army of drones." Is it frightening to hear that? I didn't… first, I didn't believe it. And no, I wasn't scared.
This kind of threat only serves to tighten my resolve and make me more determined. And he repeated that again and again. At some point I said, "Netanyahu, I get it. "Prime Minister, I understand.
"Every time you're going to give me that spiel, "Instead, I'll press an imaginary button here, "and it will be as if you told me." He laughed, I laughed, and then five minutes later, he would say, "look, if you don't…" I said, "Wait, Prime Minister, here, I'm pushing the button, "it's as if you said it." That sort of neutralized it.
Okay, and then his time ran out. Even before his time ran out, I realized he wasn't going to form a coalition. He already knew he couldn't do it. He wasn't trying especially hard. And now his entire goal was to prevent any other coalition from happening, to lead us to a fifth round.
And that was unacceptable to me, I don't remember the exact dates, I think his mandate was about to run out, his thirty days, I went public and explained the situation. I said it seemed that Netanyahu was heading towards a fifth election, and I don’t want that, I said I wouldn’t do it, which is why I'm going to start negotiating with the other side of the map. At this point, my plans were still to try and force some kind of unity between Lapid and Bibi, or Gantz and Bibi, some sort of solution, but when I made that speech, all hell broke loose, the gates of hell did indeed open upon me, upon the members of my party, the activists, the families, at an inconceivable scope.
In fact, that was the teaser for what we saw throughout the entire following year, but at a very high intensity, and I didn't expect that. What… -Rabbis… -Rabbis, but no, the protests, and the violent people outside the homes who were cursing Idit Silman and her parents, and all the MKs, and there was a combination of what Netanyahu organized and what Smotrich organized. Meaning… -There was also true pain.
There was a real and authentic sense of pain… And we need to be candid here, like I said, I would be going easy upon myself if I were only to blame the poison machine. -Yes. Eventually, forget that promise only on Channel 14 which was very wrong, it's more than that. For my entire life, I had expressed and manifested a very right-wing set of values, and these are the values that… I didn't change them.
But here I was swerving very sharply, and moreover, there was a sense of my beheading a leader. -A genocide. Then you actually… tell me about your first meeting with Mansur Abbas. My first meeting with Mansur Abbas… I realized that if I'm going to build this kind of coalition, I would have to rely on him. Who is this person? So I called him, and I said, "Hello Mansur, this is Naftali Bennett." And I heard his very high-pitched voice, at that point my opinion of him was very negative.
But people kept telling me, "he's different, he's different." And at that point I was still imagining, "He's different" is all an excuse, it's a conspiracy to penetrate the leadership, and then to Islamicize Israel. It was very… and I said, "Let's meet." And he said, "Fine, "At which apartment? When? What time?" Because he was accustomed to clandestine meetings. And I said, "No, Mansur, we'll meet at my office in the Knesset," "If I'm going to meet you, I am not ashamed of the things I do."
And we met at the Knesset, the media knew, and we went in and talked. Now I'm an observant Jew, he's a religious Muslim, and we talked. We talked for a long time. I heard his view, I was still very skeptical, and at some point he said, "Look, on matters of religion, "and the view of the Jewish and Muslim religions, "there apparently isn't… there won't be an agreement." But we both agreed that we would leave it to the Rabbis and Kadis to decide on that in a thousand years.
Of course, I'm a proud Jew, let's focus on the substance and practice, on roads, on education, on employment for Arabs and so on, and that sounded very good to me. And I also told him something else. We didn't know whether we'd be able to form a coalition or what kind it would be, and he was afraid of being left out, so I told him, "look, "if you are what I think you are, "and we develop this relationship, "I don't want to work with you under a method of deals and transactions." Because just then Bibi had made a deal with him, that in exchange… -Direct election.
That in exchange for some vote in the Knesset, he would get an unprecedented committee for Arab affairs, and I don't remember who sat there. Maybe Walid Taha, I don't remember. -Yes. And I said, "That's not how I work, I don't want that." Because it doesn't feel right to work under "you give me this and I'll give you that." I care about the public. -"You're not a mistress." You're not a mistress, but it wasn't about being a mistress, it was about how we work.
If we work together for a worthy cause, promoting the financial and quality status… -Reducing crime. of the Arab-Israeli public, and I'm in favor of that, then even if at the end we form a coalition headed by Bibi, and you are on the outside, I'll take care of you. What does "taking care" mean? I'll worry about the values you expressed, so don't worry. And it's not about you giving me something in exchange for something I give you.
And let's make a deal over cash. So you were impressed with him. I was impressed, but then we started working. There were also, and again, I don’t exactly remember the order, but there were also… the riots of "Operation Guardian of the Walls." So right before the Operation, just a question about Mansur Abbas, and then you can continue, because I saw Mansur Abbas going to a synagogue in Lod during operation "Guardian", and that moved me.
I said, he's brave. I know the price of such a thing… In general, I admire people for going against their "base". I mean, the people who come and shout and get applause from their base, that's not a big deal. -It's nice, like, wow, but people who go against their base, who can be internally critical, I really… then I started listening to both sides.
And when Mansur Abbas went to the synagogue, I said, wow, there are probably extremists in his society that are going crazy and I started liking him. But I couldn't detach him from all sorts of things said by Walid Taha, and others, that they forced him, and I felt they were forcing him, and I believed him, to say things like, "we will not vote with the coalition because you sent police to the Temple Mount." I said, what do you mean? They were throwing stones at people at the Western Wall. And I was constantly under that dichotomy. And that dichotomy is a real thing. When Mansur visited the synagogue at that time, to me that was a turning point.
That was a critical point, when I realized that this was someone else. A person who, at a time when Arabs were rioting against Jews around this country, but of course, their narrative is the opposite, this person goes to a synagogue and helps restore it, that's a statement… and he's heavily criticized within his own people… that shows leadership. That means there's something else here. That means there is a sort of Israeli Saadat here, someone with courage.
But you're right when you say, there is Mansur and there are the others, and there are the statements of the past. And that's exactly it. He's trying to make change. When you try to make change, first of all, there's the trail of things you said before your change.
Secondly, you have a second trail of people whom you need to bring along, and they are not there. So you're right in both aspects. On one hand, in him I could see an opportunity for the Zionists in this nation. That's exactly what we've been looking for, for 75 years.
An Israeli Arab with political power, This is a serious person who got five seats in the elections, he's ready and willing, he recognizes Israel as the Jewish state, he's fiercely opposed to violence, and works very hard to promote civilian cooperation. Here I'd like to emphasize, because it sounds new to me, What you're saying is, and I can relate to it, the smart thing is not to go to Abbas and tell him, "Number four in your party said so and so, "which is why I'm rejecting you as a partner", but rather to strengthen him, to let him accumulate power and let that phenomenon spread out. Right. Right, right. That's exactly where the politics… those politics we speak of, the politics of poison and chaos and social networks work the opposite way.
They always ruin these things because of some… That's true of all sides, by the way. They do that also… All right. Smotrich was at the "Parade of Beasts", or he talked about it, and several years ago, said he was a proud homophobe. But he… -But he's a very close friend of Amir Ohana's.
No, and he says he's changed. -Yes. Now we can keep showing that clip where he says he's proud to be a homophobe, or we can accept the fact that he's changed, and maybe he's trying, or maybe leading his people to be more tolerant, more… I don't know, but you have to believe people. You can say, "On this issue, the entire Right Wing embraces Avi Maoz's ideas," or you can say, "No, we have…" Take Amir Ohana, for instance.
At the end of the day, it's not hard to promote the status of LGBTs on the left, in the bloc of change, where those issues exist anyway. Where is it harder? Among the Haredi population, that Haredi boy, and now he can see that his own constituents have voted for a Chairman who is like that, who is openly gay. That's a change. Which is why… -I once went to the Yeshiva at "Netiv Ha'avot" before they evacuated it, it was also rather Kafka-esque, you know. They were evacuating homes very strangely. You could feel… and Smotrich and all sorts of Rabbis and Amir Ohana came, and they sat in a room and there was a discussion.
I watched from the side and said, that community, which I know opposes Ohana, cannot understand the extent of normalcy he's doing here. He goes there, and they're all… and he's their hero, the settlers, and people who are very extreme, some of whom are my friends, and they are very religious, I saw them looking at him, asking for his help, and the entire discussion was… it was really a meteoric advancement in a public that would otherwise have trouble accepting it. -Right, So, in every interview with Ben Gvir, we can go back and check what he once said against the LGBTQ community. -Yes. -Or the Parade of Beasts, or look at his embrace of Amir Ohana… Okay, now let's get back to the chronological order. Operation "Guardian of the Walls" began. -The operation began,
and it was very rough. We saw the Israeli Arabs, of whom we were somewhat optimistic, that they were integrating into Israeli society, and we saw some of the Israeli Arabs, especially in the mixed cities, being very violent, leading riots. To me, and I think to everyone, that was really… an alarm bell. First of all, we realized we had a home front. Ultimately, the operation was a blessing.
It was a good thing it broke out when it did and not when we are at war with Hizballah. -Yes. As Prime Minister, I'm opening a parenthesis now and I will close them in a minute, I defined the issue of Israeli Arabs as an issue of national security. And for the first time, I brought the issue to the cabinet. For the first time, I assigned the Shin Bet to a certain kind of activity among Israeli Arabs, which was unprecedented. Which means although you're sitting in the coalition with them, simultaneously… -Yes. -You did something that was against…
bringing the Shin Bet into it. -Yes, but that… I'm not going to say who, but there were two mayors in Arab society who told me, "send the Shin Bet." -Yes. "Send in the Shin Bet". -Because they too were suffering… -They suffered.
Every week in government debates, they'd ask how their daughter could study for exams when there was shooting outside. -Yes. And that's true. That issue is first and foremost the Arab's problem, but it will affect all of Israel.
In any case, that catastrophe, which is the result of decades of neglect, no one took care of that, that issue was exploding, and our government had not yet been formed. And then I realized two things. One, I have significant doubts as to whether we could build a coalition in such an atmosphere, or whether it was even acceptable to build a coalition based on Ra'am, on Mansur Abbas. And two, it was also clear to me that I could not hold my faction, and we had to announce that we were halting all activity to form a government, and that left us with either… A government headed by Netanyahu, somehow… -Who had the mandate then? I think… Lapid. I think it was Lapid. -Or an election.
I discontinued all contact. No… -It wasn't a trick. It wasn't a trick. Before the announcement, I called Lapid, and I told him, it was very hard for him, he was… there was a silence… I said, "This is how it is. "When the Israeli Arabs or some of them "are killing Jews in the streets, "we can't form a government of this kind." Open parentheses, what is your relationship with Lapid like? Define it.
Well, that's a very big segue. Our relationship has changed over the years. Would you like to discuss it? -Yes, later we'll get back to it in our last claim.
So this is my relationship with Yair Lapid: Before 2013, we barely knew each other. Once, this is interesting, when I was CEO of Yesha, I took him on a tour of Judea and Samarea, and he wrote a column. I wasn't crazy about it. I didn't like the style, and something he wrote about the disengagement really angered me, he said it was meant to teach the settlers a lesson, and I really didn't like the style… I didn't relate. The 2013 elections ended, and my party was the third largest in size.
There was Bibi, Lapid with 19, I had 12 mandates, And of course, some kind of Right Wing government was supposed to form… a simple one. There were 61 mandates for the Right wing and Haredis. And Bibi didn't call. I can remember myself waiting in the garden, and he didn't call. Then I heard he was going to form a coalition without me. Without the "Bayit Hayehudi", with 12 mandates, something new was happening, and he was making deals with Tsippi Livni.
He made the first deal with Tsippi Livni. Minister of Justice. She would be Minister of Justice and manage negotiations with the Palestinians. That means… -He gave her the core. The core and… He'd already marked the coalition as an almost centrist-leftist coalition, I'd say.
And then I realized, okay, he's going to leave me out of it, and he was negotiating with Lapid. Lapid and I quickly made contact. Lapid wanted to form a government that would deal with equalizing the burden. He wanted a government without the Haredis. I was not interested in leaving the Haredis out, but I was interested in being part of the coalition, so very quickly, because I realized that I was heading for the opposition, and I hadn't gotten into politics to sit on the opposition for nothing, and for personal reasons, and so on, we created the alliance, what was called "the alliance of brothers", either we join the coalition together, or we're outside of the coalition together.
Which is a unique phenomenon in politics. -A unique phenomenon. By the way, as far as I'm concerned it was created solely as a political instrument. It was a way of forcing Netanyahu to take the "Bayit Hayehudi". There were Ori Orbach, and Uri Ariel, and so on.
And then during negotiations, Bibi realized this, and he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to form a coalition, because Lapid was unwilling to join without me. So he came to me and told me, "All right, let's form a coalition." Without Lapid, of course. You won. It's like… -No, no. No, he told me, "of course, we don't want Lapid, "we want a right-wing government." Yes, the moment after… -Yes.
And then I locked in, I sometimes do this in negotiations, I lock in and say, whatever may happen, I gave my word to Lapid. He looked out for me, as far as I'm concerned… Although maybe it would have been right to break my promise. Yes, yes… he offered… -Loyalty. -He offered mountains. I don't remember… -Is it a good quality in a politician, to keep your promises? – No. I think Bibi succeeds because he also knows how to break his word, doesn't he? I think that between politicians, that ability is also what builds trust for the future.
In any case, they sent… -Yes. They sent Rabbis and Yesha officials to persuade me, "You can form a right-wing coalition without Lapid." "Why are you… you could be Minister of Defense."
Guys, we shook hands. He looked out for me, now I'm looking out for him. Don't even come to me. I locked down, I closed the shelves, and eventually the coalition was formed.
And then, I think that was the first time I put forth the theory I call "70-70". If 70 percent of the public believes 70 percent of the things, let's cooperate. The government didn't work like that, I'm afraid. I suppose that I was partly responsible for that, but as I saw it, I thought that Lapid and Tsippi Livni… Once again, I'm stating my narrative… -Were pulling to their side. They kept pulling towards their side, They were too anti-Haredi. -Yes. -To their base. And ultimately, there was no sense of coherence to the government.
There was left and right. So your honeymoon with Lapid began fading because you were pulling too hard to the right. -Yes, yes. And my esteem for him also faded. -Yes.
I mean, I didn't have as much… The euphoric sensation that two young people can work together and all that… it wasn't like that. There were many differences. -Right. So then I came to… the government of 2015-2019 was formed, which was a coherent government, with Kachlon and the Haredis, later Lieberman joined. -Yes. And there was a functioning government. -I see. We were there to work. -And then we jump back to the time, where he has to give you the leadership. -Right.
Now… -To mark that, I will eat a strawberry. Good luck. –"Blessed Art Thou Our lord, creator of the fruit of the tree." -Amen. Nice, it's not a tree. -It's the land. -The land. Aha. -Please leave that in,
so that people will see I was wrong. Do I have to say the blessing again? I don't know. -Does "tree" remove land, Ben Ben? No, land removes the tree. -So I have to say it again.
No kidding. -So I have to say it again. And I was Minister of Religions. -"Blessed art thou, Our Lord, "creator of the fruit of the land." -Amen. Another blessing.
Now everything is possible. So the story is, that this time the initiative was Lapid's. I just want to say that I grew up in a farming village. I picked strawberries! I literally pulled them out. -Yes. It was all supposed to be in my head, I was supposed to know it's not a tree, right? -Look… If the future of religious Zionism depended on you… -Yeah. -We'd be…
And you come to me for an interview… -Right. -Of all people. I will say a blessing for that. Okay, I'll eat a date too.
You grew up in… Hispin? Ramat Magshimim, Golan Heights. -Ramat Magshimim. I really love that area. -The Golan? -Yes. I used to go there a lot in my childhood. I had a friend from Nov. -No kidding!
Yes? -Yes, yes. -What was her last name? That doesn't matter. -Never mind. And we'd hike at the El Al river, and… -Did you jump into the Yehudia? -Yes, yes.
Yes, all that. Were you very strong? Like your son? -No. I was… the fastest in my class and I'd… Oh yes, you were fast… I did… I held the record for the most pull ups at school. -Oh yeah? -36 pull ups. But I wasn't… -That's it. The whole gym thing, it wasn't popular back then. In the Matkal Unit, what is most important? I mean the… -It's not as important. -Because the Shayetet guys are stronger. -Right.
The Shayetet soldiers are stronger. -Yes. The Matkal looks more like… -So it's more mental with you? No, it's very physical. It's very physical, that's it. -But it's mostly in the legs.
In the Matkal Unit… -I remember we were told that it's all in our heads. I called my mother and said, "look, it's not all in my head, "my legs really hurt, I have to tell you." It's not… I remember there was always fierce competition between Matkal and the Shayetet. Back then at least, the Shayetet would get two meals with meat every day. Five meals a day, two of them with meat. Because they were muscular, but everyone knew that the Matkal, if I have to navigate from here to here, I can… I have to find the most accurate, the smartest way.
The Shayetet just push forward. -They just push forward. They cross the mountain, they go up, and down. -With the water. Yes, in the water they get a compass and… -Yes. So they said.
I must say, that as Defense Minister and Prime Minister, I have approved quite a few operations for both, and I can say they are both excellent units. But… -no buts. The Shayetet is an excellent unit.
Yes? Is it better? -No, it's not better, they are both excellent. If I had to advise my son, and I do, right now. -Yes. I'd tell him Shayetet. -Really! -For a few reasons. That's interesting, give me one reason. There are more operations.
Maybe each operation is not as glamorous, but you perform more mediocre operations… meaning, you don't spend eight months working on some kind of model. One huge operation, yes. Which won't be approved in the end… -Yes, yes.
It's like… Did you have the chance to participate in many operations? No, no. I completed the training for the Matkal unit, I was a soldier for two months, I participated in a minor operation, and then I went off to officers' training, and they didn't ask me to come back as an operations officer. I could go back as a combat officer… -Yes. or go out into "the big army", as they said, and become a commander. And then Maglan. -I chose to go out…
But they said you had killed a lot. That was in Maglan? -Maglan, Maglan. In what kind of situations were you killing, can you say? In 1995 I received champagne and all sorts of… awards and certificates… we developed a relatively new model for killing terrorists. Hizballah. -In Lebanon? -In Lebanon.
That means face to face combat, or other means… with other means, it's a very clever method. And it worked. -Yes. And in fact… But did you see the faces of the people you were killing or it wasn't like that? -I saw… all right, let's leave it at that. It's a method that is successful to this day. We came from a certain angle and… Because it succeeded… -Do you think about killing people? Do you ever think about that? -No. I never lost any sleep at night.
They are our enemies, they want to kill us. -Not in a bad way, or… Just, does it ever go through your mind. -No, no, no. Never, I never had the… Not even Said, that redhead? I have… -You didn't suddenly have mercy for someone… Yeah, I didn't… By the way, I don't hate anyone, it's just… you have to take out terrorists. -Yes. As a unit commander, that burned in me, to take out as many terrorists as I could. -There are good guys and bad guys.
Yes. -We need the good guys to win. And you know what I learned back then? I learned that when we're continuously aggressive, they retreat. I mean, at that time, there was the security strip in Lebanon. For those who don't know it, The IDF kept hold of a strip of land, a few kilometers into Lebanon. -Yes. In order to form a barrier between Hizballah and the villages on the south of the border, to keep the missiles away. -It was that important to the IDF,
that they even put me there, just so you understand. Yes, even you, the danger. Just so you know.
Where was I? -Artichoke ambushes. At Sujud, Reichan… -Sujud, Reichan… The hard core of the hard c