Naftali Bennett speaks to teen leaders at IC
Photo: BBYO/Michael Kandel Photography  
Naftali Bennett speaks to teen leaders and answers pointed questions at the BBYO International Convention Feb. 16, 2023, in Dallas. Moderating was journalist Jodi Kantor, at right.

On Thursday afternoon, in an invite-only session, a couple of hundred BBYO teen leaders heard from Israel’s 13th prime minister, Naftali Bennett. Bennett answered prepared questions from a panel of eight teens from around the world including Argentina, Finland, Israel and the United States.

Bennett discussed the challenges of being prime minister to the most diverse Israeli government as well as some of the challenges faced by the country today. He shared his experience trying to broker peace between Ukraine and Russia, meeting with Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky and Russia’s President Vladmir Putin.

With regard to leading the most culturally diverse government in Israel’s history, Bennett said he formed “the 70/70 rule, which says that 70% of the people agree on 70% of the issues and disagree on 30%,” he explained. The two hot-button issues for Israelis are the Palestinian conflict and religion and state. Bennett said his solution was to shelve the two issues that members of Knesset couldn’t agree on and focus on the 70% of the issues that they could agree on such as education and public transportation.

With regard to Israel’s current battle over judicial reform, Bennett said that the biggest threat to Israel is an internal one.

“The single biggest national security threat to the State of Israel is this polarization, division, tribalism,” the former prime minister said. He also pointed out that in Israel’s history this is the third time.

One area in which Bennett was very clear was his advice on how the teens could combat antisemitism:

“Never apologize for being Jewish,” he said.

He pointed out that Israel as a country is working hard to fight the worst terrorists in the world, to provide water to the countries surrounding it, fighting Iran and saving lives. He reminded the group that Israel was the first country to set up a field hospital in Ukraine during the war and one of the first to respond to the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

“Jews are not better than anyone. But Jews have a mission and the mission is to shine bright and do good. So be proud. Be proud, fight and never apologize,” he said.

Early in his remarks, Bennett said that Israel exists for all Jews.

“I want each of you to know wherever you live, whether it’s Argentina, Finland, Iceland, Antarctica…. You always have a home with an open door in Israel, whatever happens.”

As he concluded, he reminded the group that Jews have a responsibility to take care of one another. When something happens to Jews in another part of the world, it is every Jew’s problem.

“We have to take care of each other. We’re one family and it also means that we have to strive to realize the meaning of Judaism, which is to be better than to do good, to try hard in the real world.”

He concluded, “… We seek to do good even when it’s tough…. I’m a big believer that we’re all fortunate, despite our very tough history, to have this amazing Jewish family. So thank you very much. I’ll see you all in Israel.”

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