The strategy worked, and Jewish Home started gaining in the polls.
Evidence that Bennett was a political force to be reckoned with came this week when Israel’s top-rated comedy show, ‘‘A Wonderful Country,’’ introduced a new character, iBennett: a user-friendly app that shows a broadly smiling Bennett-lookalike making extremist political pronouncements — described as bugs in the system.
Netanyahu hit back after Bennett told a TV interviewer last week that he would personally prefer to go to jail than to obey an order to evict Jewish settlers from their homes under a peace deal, as happened when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
The prime minister summoned all three major Israeli TV stations for rare domestic interviews and announced that anyone who preached insubordination in the military would not be welcome in his next government. Netanyahu’s camp then followed up with a campaign of posters and newspaper ads depicting Bennett as irresponsible and extremist.
Bennett says his comments have been distorted, that he wasn’t preaching insubordination but voicing his own personal opinion — one that resonates widely within the religious right, which was traumatized by the Gaza pullout.
‘‘I think people are looking for the truth and are drawn to real people who speak at eye level, even if sometimes they make mistakes,’’ he said. ‘‘It was an unfortunate comment, but aside from wars I don’t think the prime minister ever calls all the TV stations to him at once. The public isn’t buying this spin and rejects it entirely.’’
Despite the campaign conflicts, Bennett insists he can work with Netanyahu.
‘‘The question is who will be by his side,’’ he said. ‘‘Netanyahu will drive the bus, but I refuse that he be alone at the wheel. I'll be there to put a hand on the wheel and influence where it goes.’’
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