Mon, 02 Aug 2021

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, June 14 (Xinhua) -- Naftali Bennett, 49, was sworn in as Israel's 13th prime minister on Sunday. He leads the country's 36th government after ousting Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as Israel's longest serving prime minister for 12 consecutive years and 15 years in total.

Bennett is a religious Jew, married and a father of four. As a hi-tech millionaire, most of his fortune was made after selling the cyber-security firm Cyota, a company he co-founded in 1999 and sold in 2005.

He leads the ultra-nationalist right-wing Yamina party. With just seven mandates, his refusal to commit to a government with Netanyahu made him the kingmaker of the Israeli political map and allowed him to head the government in an agreement with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid.

According to the agreement, Bennett will hold the office of the premier for the first two years and Lapid will serve as alternate prime minister and foreign minister. They will then rotate for the latter two-year term.

Born to American parents who immigrated to Israel, Bennett entered into politics in 2006 and served as Netanyahu's chief of staff. He also served as the chairman of the West Bank settler's council.

In an interview with the Times of Israel ahead of the last election, Bennett acknowledged his position is right of Netanyahu.

"I'm more right-wing than Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu), but I don't use hate or polarization as a tool to promote myself politically. We don't do that because that's not what we're about. We're about connecting," he said.

In his inaugural speech, Bennett said his main goal was to heal the rifts in Israeli society.

"The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people, to stop, to stop this madness."

Considered as a modern orthodox Jew, Bennett is the first prime minister to regularly wear a Kippa, the traditional Jewish skullcap. He served in one of the Israeli military's most elite commando units and has championed a hardline approach towards militants who act against Israel, often criticizing Netanyahu's actions in the Gaza Strip as lackluster.

Between 2013 and 2019, he served under Netanyahu in several key positions, leading the ministries of economy, diaspora affairs, education, religious services and defense.

Bennett is believed to continue Netanyahu's tough stance against the Iranian nuclear program.

"Renewing the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake," he said in his inaugural speech at Israel's parliament, the Knesset, noting that "Israel will not allow Iran to be equipped with nuclear weapons. Israel is not a party to the agreement, and will maintain full freedom to act."

A testament to their sour relationship, Netanyahu met Bennett briefly for 30 minutes on Monday to transfer power.

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