Software Entrepreneur, Special Forces Commander
Naftali Bennett (b. 1972) was born in Haifa to Modern Orthodox parents who made aliyah to Israel (from San Francisco) following the Six-Day War. He studied at Yavne Yeshiva, where he became a youth leader for Bnei Akiva, the religious Zionist organization. After his studies, Bennett joined the IDF and served in the Sayeret Matkal and Maglan special forces units, rising to the rank of company commander. His primary area of operations was in Lebanon. After completing his service, Bennett studied at the Hebrew University, earning a law degree. In 1999, he moved to New York and co-founded the software company Cyota. As its CEO, Bennett built the start-up into a successful tech firm and sold it in 2005 for $145 million. Bennett then returned to Israel and continued his work as a software entrepreneur. At one point he served as CEO of Soluto, which was recently sold for nearly $130 million. Not long after his return to Israel, the Lebanon War broke out and Bennett returned to the IDF, leading a number of search-and-destroy missions in Hezbollah territory. Following the war, Bennett joined Netanyahu’s Likud party and soon became his Chief of Staff. Between 2010 and 2012, Bennett was the director-general of Yesha, the organization that represents Jewish settlements in Judah and Samaria (commonly known as the “West Bank”). After founding a number of other organizations promoting Israel and the Zionist cause, Bennett left Likud and joined HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home), a religious Zionist political party. He immediately ran for party leadership and won by a landslide. Just a few months later, Bennett was able to win 12 seats for the party in Israel’s Knesset (compared to just 3 seats for the party in the previous election). Among other roles, he became the Minister of the Economy and Minister of Religious Services, as well as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He has been praised for his work as Minister of the Economy, opening up new trade agreements with emerging markets around the world, boosting trade with Russia, China, Brazil, and India, as well as dealing with increasing boycotts of Israeli products. Bennett is continuing to lead HaBayit HaYehudi into Israel’s coming elections in March. Some of his platform positions have been controversial, among them opposing a Palestinian state, and fighting Israel’s big unions. At the same time, he is pushing education reform, more investment in underprivileged parts of Israeli society and in small businesses, and providing affordable housing and land provisions for veterans. He is also focused on integrating Israeli-Arabs and Ultra-Orthodox Jews more tightly into Israel’s society and workforce. Bennett remains a reservist in the IDF, holding the rank of Major.
UPDATE: On June 13, 2021, Naftali Bennett became Israel’s 13th prime minister, as the head of the Yamina party. He is the first religious prime minister in the country’s history.
Words of the Week
The fact that the entire world says something does not mean it is correct.
– Naftali Bennett, in an interview for Israel’s Channel Two.