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Meet the High-Tech Millionaire Leading the West Bank Settlement Movement
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TEL SHILOH, West Bank (JTA) -- Naftali Bennett does not fit the mold of a typical Jewish settler leader.

He's just 38, made his fortune in high tech before entering what he describes as public service and doesn’t even live in the West Bank.

A former commando and company commander in the Israeli army, Bennett is now preparing for a possible battle against an old ally: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

From 2006 to 2008, Bennett worked as Netanyahu’s right-hand man, serving as his chief of staff. But as the new CEO of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Bennett finds himself at odds with Netanyahu, for whom he worked tirelessly to bring back to power.

Bennett, who is dynamic and telegenic, does not hold back on what he thinks of the effort of his former boss to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians -- one that, if successful, would lead to a Palestinian state that likely would necessitate the evacuation of some Jewish settlements.

"I strongly believe that Judea and Samaria has to be ours because I don't think we can survive without it," Bennett said, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

“A Palestinian state here, in the heart of Israel? I think it's national suicide,” he said. "Judea and Samaria are on a tall mountain range that overlooks the very narrow sliver of land about 9 miles from the sea."

Bennett spoke to JTA at the visitors' center of Tel Shiloh, an archeological site scholars believe to be the location of the biblical city of Shiloh, the first Israelite capital and one-time home to the Ark of the Covenant.

"It's that mountain range that protects my home in Ra'anana," said Bennett, who lives in the leafy Tel Aviv suburb with his wife and three young children.

He grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Haifa. He wears a small, black kipah.

Not so long ago Bennett was preoccupied not with issues of war and peace but the high-tech start-up he co-founded and ran. The firm, Cyota, developed highly sought-after anti-fraud software for banks.

In 2005 he sold the company for $145 million to RSA Security, an American firm. Seven out of 10 bank transactions in the United States and Canada are now utilizing Cyota's engineering, according to Bennett.

A year after exiting the high-tech world, Bennett, like thousands of other Israeli men, received an emergency call-up order to serve in what became known as the Second Lebanon War. Devastated when his best friend was killed in the fighting, he decided not to return to the business world.

Bennett soon started to work for Netanyahu, who was then the head of the opposition. He won't discuss what kind of conversations he has with Netanyahu these days.

Bennett is unequivocal that the settlement freeze in the West Bank must not be extended. Settlements, he says, are the Western world's frontline against Islamic terror.

"There is no political option to give a new freeze order -- the world should instead be strengthening our presence here,” he said. "No one else in the region can predict what will be in the Middle East in even the next two years. Iran could topple Iraq. What breeds terror is the hope of kicking us out of here.”

"They want a state," he said of the Palestinians. "And I want to live."

Suddenly quiet, he adds, "It's a tragedy."

Last Update:

01/26/2013 - 19:23
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Jewish settlements, Naftali Bennett, Settlement moratorium, West Bank, Yesha Council
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Agree. And with the current "rebranding" of Israel falsely as an "apartheid" state by the Western, World, and Arab press corps, a CLEAR and unequivocal definition of Zionism and the Jewish State is now critical. The "deconstruction" of Israel by the Left must be countered with truth. Thanks to Naftali Bennett for carrying forward the ideals and attitude of the original Zionists--not hate, not occupation at the expense of others--but realism and a commitment to the actualities of the region: both the ancient history and the area as it has evolved to present day. A country 1/300th in area of the US, surrounded by Arab states 100's of times the size and most extremely hostile, presents unique challenges. Old grudges die hard, but it's a shame the loose federation of arabs now misnomered as "Palestinians" never considered how rich they'd be by doing business with and living peacefully with the Israelis. Instead they listened to their envious and power-hungry leaders back in the day and gave up what could have been. Their leaders still rip them off now, pretending that the inhospitable area was some sort of "paradise" that was taken from them. Israel has to defend itself against the seeming impossible. We wish Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu courage and clarity in the years to come, and we hope for peace.

Roman Brackman Ph.D. 700 Fort Washington Ave. apt. 5-D New York City, NY 10040 Tel. (212) 740-8744 Tel. (845) 292-6534 (during summers) E-mail: Website: January29, 2011 Shalom Mr. Naftali Bennett: Congratulations with your with your appointment as Director General of the Yesha Council. I hope you might respond positively to the investment proposal of Vitaly Svechinsky, a prominent Israeli architect who has won many prizes in Israel, among them the most recently the David Azrieli “Israel the Beautiful Prize for the Urbanization Design for the New Center of the City of Karmiel.” Vitaly Svechinsky’s proposal involves construction of 440 villas in Katzrin, the capital of Golan Heights. Prospective buyers are families of specialists in High-Tech businesses in the industrial zone of Katzrin, as well as Israelis and the Jews from around the world who are looking for a second home. Some villas have already been sold for $150,000 each. All villas overlook Lake Kineret. This is a unique investment deal in Israel because in the Golan Heights it is allowed to build and sell all 440 villas the American way “as is” and not as customary in Israel for individual buyers to get mortgages for each home before the start of construction. This American system of building and selling homes “as is” maximizes profits. Vitaly is the architect for this entire project. Here is how it works: A parcel of land for each villa costs nothing because in the Golan height the land is owned by the state and the building parcels are rented for 49 years to each home buyer. This project has an approval of the Governor of Golan Heights Eli Malka, Mayor of Katzrin Shmuel Bar-Lev and City Council Vice Chairman Gabi Hano. An investment of $2 million for the construction, landscaping, lines of communication and sale of the first twenty villas will be enough to get the whole project going and financing the construction and sale of each of the next twenty villas. The whole project will be completed in stages by building 20 villas in each stage. Total cost of building 20 villas: $100.000x20=$2.000.000 Selling price of one villa: $150.000 Selling price for 20 villas: $150.000x20 = $3.000 000 This project will be named after the Principal Investor. The profit from the sale of 400 villas will be shared by the investor and the builder on agreed upon basis. Egal Fisher is the lawyer for the project. His tel. 011-972-4-855-5333 Israel is blossoming and building e all over Israel, including in the Golan Heights. Vitaly Svechinsky is my childhood friend, classmate, co-defendant and a fellow Zionist inmate in Stalin’s Gulag (1950-1955). Vitaly was the original organizer, starting in 1968, of the Jewish movement for immigration from Russia to Israel. He was the author of the first appeal, signed by 10, and then by 39 Russian Jews, and of the many other appeals which were published in the United States. This was the beginning of the struggle for the Jewish emigration from Russia. He left Russia for Israel on February 1, 1971. I was with him when he arrived in Israel and saw him greeted by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and other members of the Israeli Government. I hope you might let me know of your interest in it. Please, let me know your preferred address. I will send you all the approval letters and photographs of the area and of the individual villas as well an article about the defense of Gamla, the ancient Jewish city in the Golan Heights. The defense of this city took place more than two thousand years ago during the Romans’ conquest. I will also send you my book “Israel at High Noon” with the Foreword by Vitaly Svechinsky and my brief Bio. Sincerely, Roman Brackman

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