I was repelled by Naftali Bennett’s Mafsikim L’hitnatzel (we are not apologizing anymore) 2014-2015 campaign slogan. I could understand and even appreciate the message to some extent. Many in Israel had absorbed so deeply the critique of Israel’s detractors that it could feel at times that certain circles thought that Israel was rotten to the core, that nothing it did could be justified. Bennet’s slogan was a reaction to a trend of unhealthy national self-flagellation. But how could a party that claimed to represent Jewish values build a campaign against contrition. Isn’t an authentic Jewish life built on rethinking, questioning, improving, and yes apologizing? No matter how frustrated I was by certain elements of the Israeli left and how infuriated I was by the demonization of Israel at the hands of its enemies, a campaign against apologies grated against me.
Then a couple of years later, Bennett admitted that the government that he was part of and that legislation he supported was misguided. When Bennett understood the pain that the Nation-State Law caused the Druze community, he said “it has become clear that the manner in which the nation-state law was enacted was very damaging especially to them, and to anyone who has tied their fate to the Jewish state.”
He admitted that the government has “a responsibility to find a way to heal the wounds.” My first reaction was exasperation. I knew from my interactions with the Druze community that many were deeply disturbed by the National State Bill long before it ever became law. How could it be that a simple citizen like me knew what Bennett claimed he hadn’t realized until after the bill was passed? And yet, here was Naftali Bennett, basically breaking his campaign slogan – apologizing in not so many words to an Arabic-speaking minority in Israel for his insensitivity.
A few days ago, in the wake of the “change coalition” building, Naftali Bennett admitted that his previous remarks about Mansour Abbas were wrong. He said “Mansour Abbas isn’t a terror supporter. I met an honest man and a brave leader who is reaching out and seeking to help Israeli citizens.” He said that this new coalition could be an opportunity to turn a new page in the country’s relations with its Arab minority.
I know that many are extremely cynical about Bennett’s recent political turn and I think they have good reason to be. Nevertheless, I hope that Bennett might be sincerely shifting his attitude.
There is a cadre of important figures who are full-throated lovers of the land of Israel writ large, deeply, staunchly, passionately Zionist, and committed to the wellbeing and security of Jews in the land, and yet simultaneously companionate and sensitive to our Arab/Palestinian neighbors, looking at Israel with introspection, self-reflection, and healthy critique. I am thinking of Yossi Klein Halevi, Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen, Ruby Rivlin, Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, and of course Rabbi Menachem Froman of blessed memory, his family and disciples amongst many others. (I only know most of these figures from a distance. Most don’t know me. I wonder if they would see themselves as part of the same set or be comfortable with my grouping them together.) Movement of Naftali Bennett towards their posture is a step in the right direction and hopefully a good sign.