Naftali Bennett Tapped as New Israeli Education Minister


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has announced that Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party and Minister of the Economy, will become the country’s new Education Minister.

New HaBayit HaYehudi Knesset member Yinon Magal told Galei Zahal (Military Radio Station) in an interview that in recent weeks, Bennett told him that “he fell in love with this ministry, and he considers this ministry to have an important role. Sometimes there are things that you don’t always appreciate at first, but then you find out more about it and learn to love it.”

Head of the Jewish Home Party, Bennett recently decided to withdraw his request to work for the defense or foreign ministry, instead asking for the position of education minister.  The move is strategic for Bennett, who is looking for a way to increase the influence of his party beyond its traditional base.

Bennett’s first move was to request a budget increase of around $260 million (~1 billion shekels).  He said the additional funds would be used to hire an additional assistant for every kindergarten classroom that holds over 30 children, as well as to help a summer camp program continue that had been started by previous Education Minister Shai Piron of the Yesh Atid party.

The education budget is already the second-largest budget in Israel, coming in after defense at $11.3 billion.  Although the education system is in major need of reform, it may be difficult to achieve change in a short period of time when facing off against the labor organizations that unite the majority of Israeli teachers.

It is unclear how well-suited Bennett is for the position, coming in as the leader of a right-wing religious party who has never made his religious worldview a secret.

Meanwhile, Bennett has recently gotten into trouble for a statement made to Arab students in a panel that car thieves from the southern part of the country are Arab, a statement many took to be racist.

In an interview with the Army Radio Station, Arab Student Council Chairman Mahmud Agbaria expressed his concern over Bennett’s appointment and called for preventing it. “A person who calls Arabs thieves, and boasts about killing Palestinians, is not worthy to head an educational system that teaches values, tolerance, culture and respect,” he said.

Jewish Home had recently met to discuss its anger over the slow progress of coalition talks with Likud.  One suggestion was to turn to the Labor party for help in hurrying a resolution.