A year in office, Bennett appeals to Israel’s ‘silent majority’

Tel Aviv (Reuters) – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appealed for more open support from what he described as Israel’s silent majority on Friday as he marked a year in office with his governing coalition tenuously controlling half the seats in parliament.

In a 27-page pamphlet circulated over social media, Bennett sought to play up his achievements and fend off his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative who as opposition leader has accused the government of being soft on national security.

Bennett, a nationalist, ended Netanyahu’s record 12-year reign in June 2021 at the head of a rare cross-partisan alliance that includes an Islamist party representing members of Israel’s 21% Arab minority, many of whom identity with the Palestinians.

Casting attacks on him as offset by the “silent Zionist majority”, Bennett urged his supporters: “Raise your voice. Spread our message that decent people with different views who love the country can sit together and work for its betterment.”

A lawmaker from Bennett’s own party quit in April, citing sectarian disputes and ending his 61-59 seat majority in the Knesset. That left him vulnerable to no-confidence motions and banking on disarray among the opposition to survive.

An opinion poll broadcast by Channel 12 TV last week found that, were an election held now, Netanyahu would come out ahead, set to wield 59 parliament seats while parties in the current coalition would end up with 55. Among Netanyahu’s allies are ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that sometimes distance themselves from Zionism.

Forty-six percent of Israelis deemed Netanyahu best-suited for top office, whereas 21% favoured Bennett, the Channel 12 poll found.

The incumbent’s political jeopardy comes at an important diplomatic juncture. He is due to host U.S. President Joe Biden soon – perhaps later this month – to strategise on Iran and discuss a possible warming of Israel’s ties with Saudi Arabia.