At YU Event, MK Naftali Bennett Shares Dream of Israeli Light in the Darkness of Mideast Conflict

Sharing his vision for Israel at a November 19 event on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus, Knesset Member Naftali Bennett asked the crowd of close to 300 to imagine a lighthouse.

20131119_Naftali_Bennett_083“A lighthouse has strong foundations, which Israel has in our Torah, our very good economy and the most powerful army in the Middle East,” he said. “But any tower has strong foundations. The most important thing a lighthouse does is project light.” Referring to recent unrest in the region, he added, “There is a storm going on and it’s here to stay, from Pakistan to Iran, from Damascus to Yemen. Israel needs to be the lighthouse in that storm.”

Currently serving as Israel’s Minister of Economy (Industry, Trade and Labor), Minister of Religious Services and Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, in addition to the leader of the HaBayit HaYehudi political party, Bennett has a plan to help Israel become just that. At the YU event, titled “Innovation: Insights from Israel” and organized by the Sy Syms School of Business Student Council (SYMSSC) and YU’s Office of Student Life, he spoke of five key areas in which Israel is seeking to lead the world: water technology, agriculture and food, cybersecurity, medical devices and energy.

“In all these fields, you can do well, but you can also do good,” Bennett said, citing Israel’s training of tens of thousands of farmers in India to produce food more efficiently each year as an example. “I want to shift us from being ‘the startup nation’ to ‘the lighthouse nation.’ ”

The idea of “doing good” as a nation was one Bennett first became passionate about after he led a team of missile launcher hunters in Israel’s Second Lebanon War. “We didn’t perform well in that war—not because we didn’t have ammo or the right arms or poor tactics, because maybe there was some of that, but that’s always been a problem,” he said. “There was a bigger problem of the spirit.” Noting that the war took place a year after the divisive dismantlement of Gush Katif and that in 2006, one out of two new soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force had never visited the Kotel, Bennett said, “How can you defend your country if you’re not connected to eretz Yisrael, am Yisrael  and Torat Yisrael? If you ask me what Israel’s biggest challenge is, it’s not Lebanon, the Palestinians, Syrians or even Iran—it’s that connection.”

20131119_Naftali_Bennett_046To that end, having already found success in the high-tech arena, Bennett joined the fading HaBayit HaYehudi party with the goal of restoring Jewish pride to the Israeli people. “For so many years we’ve been defined by the conflict,” he said. “There is a conflict, but that’s not what we’re about. The Jewish mission, from Moses to Abraham, has always been about making the world a better place—a ‘light unto the nations.’ ”

With that goal in mind, Bennett explained how he had revamped HaBayit HaYehudi, opening it to non-religious members and broadening its scope beyond the synagogue, mikvaot and kashrut advocacy it once stood for to gain an additional nine seats in the current Knesset. “We aspire to lead Israel by combining Torah with life,” he said. “For the first time in Israel’s history, we’re not just sitting in the backseat, but we have our hand on the steering wheel.”

Bennett was also quick to point out the similarities between his philosophy and YU’s guiding mantra of Torah Umadda, telling students, “Coming to Yeshiva University is exactly the first right step, because you get the two foundations you need for a good life—you build a life of Torah that will continue forever, and you get a good, solid foundation at one of the top 50 universities in North America. You made a great decision to come here because it’s absolutely right to invest in Torah, invest in your studies and build your capabilities before you come to Israel.”

During the evening, Bennett shared insight as well from his professional life as both a public servant and an accomplished entrepreneur. “The biggest takeaway for me was that it’s not about the idea, the patent or the market size—who you choose to be your partner is everything,” he recommended to students looking to found their own startups. Other advice included, “Don’t wait for the big investor—if you can do it with less, do it with less,” and “When you’re a startup, you don’t have much to lose, so don’t analyze things to death—just do them.”

Bennett’s visit was one of many recent events on campus focused on exploring and strengthening students’ connection with Israel, including a visit from Israel’s Education Minister, Rabbi Shai Piron, and an upcoming talk by its Deputy Minister of Transportation, MK Tzipi Hotovely.

20131119_Naftali_Bennett_089“As we continue to build Yeshiva University as the premiere center for Torah learning and academic achievement in the Diaspora, we do so with an understanding of Israel’s central importance to the Jewish story,” said President Richard M. Joel. “Naftali Bennett’s presence on campus, in addition to a host of related initiatives, sends a strong message on our campus and throughout our community regarding our commitment to solidifying partnerships with the Jewish State.”

“Bennett is a role model for every student in our school,” said Jesse Nathanson, president of the SSBSC and one of the event’s organizers. “He is a successful professional, but more importantly, has prioritized helping Jews and Israel. It’s an honor to have him speak.”