„We are tired of leaders that are great with talk, and weak with action”
Hananya Naftali, Jewish believer in Jesus, advisor to Netanyahu, about faith, elections, and the Israeli-Hungarian relations
„We are tired of leaders that are great with talk, and weak with action”

Hananya Naftali

2022. 09. 30.
Standing up for the truth in times of peril, fake news, misinformation and disinformation. Going against the current, Hananya Naftali, Jewish follower of Jesus, social media advisor to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaches hundreds of thousands with his videos about Israel, the Middle East peace process and more, fighting lies and building bridges.

We have known each other for several years now, but when we first met in Budapest, I don't think that you have dreamt that once you will be working for Benjamin Natanyahu, doing public diplomacy, meeting with heads of state, ambassadors. How did this happen? When did you first meet Netanyahu and what was it like? 

I was always a big fan and supporter of Netanyahu. I know that he has great love for Hungary as well. He and Mr. Orban are close. I believe that Hungary and Israel are close nations in general, maybe different food.

You’re gulash we’re humus, but same heart, basically.

The way it started is actually very funny, and not many people know about this. Just like most Israelis, I served in the army. I was in the armored corpse, in the tanks. I fought Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and saw all the lies being spread against Israel much like the lies that are being spread against Hungary as a nation today saying that Hungary is not a democracy and blah blah, all kinds of nonsense. We face a similar situation, attacks against Israel saying that we commit war crimes. 

So in 2014, I decided that I'm going to change that. I will make videos about Israel. I will stand up for my country.

there is no shame in being a patriot, no shame in being Zionist and Jew and Israeli.

Slowly and steadily it picked up, it got a lot of media attention. By 2017, I had around 200,000 people following me on Facebook. And I said, you know what? This is time now to ask the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to do an interview with him because it was a dream of mine.

Photo: Hananya Naftali

I messaged one of his advisers on Facebook, introduced myself. I said I would like to do an interview with his excellency Netanyahu. He responded just a few hours later, saying, hey it's funny, we were actually thinking about making a video together with you. So we made it happen. After a few months, I met him. They said, you're going to come to his office in Jerusalem and film an interview with him. I wanted to hear from him about how I can defend Israel. So I dragged my tripod, my camera, my lights to the Prime Minister's office.

Sitting outside, one of his advisors come out of the office and they tell me, we're very sorry, but you only have two minutes. It has to be very, very short. So I said okay.

 I'll use the time anyways. It's funny because when you talk to the prime minister about defending Israel and about standing up for what's right, He has more time than two minutes. So we ended up talking for like 10 minutes and it was wonderful. This is how I basically got to know him back in 2017. A few months later, they asked me to manage his social media accounts and to be part of his team of advisors. I was very privileged to get this opportunity, even though I was only 22 at that time. 

So when you got this news, what was your first thought and what was your first reaction? It's a huge thing.

It is, it is a huge thing. Try to put yourself in my shoes. You're entering to meet the prime minister of your country for the first time, it is very exciting. You don't want to mess it up. So I enter this office very determined, very assertive. The team made fun of me saying he was not in the office. So I'm entering, and he is sitting behind his desk. As I was setting up all the tripod and cameras, in my heart it was obviously very exciting,

but in action, i was back in my military mindset. I have a mission, I'm going to accomplish it.

But yeah, it was a dream come true because I really admire Benjamin Netanyahu. I know that especially in these crucial times, we need strong leaders. Strong leaders that don’t care about pleasing the media, they don't care about saying what the ears want to hear, but to say truth. I think that this is exactly what Netanyahu is doing. 

So how did your life change after that? So how should we imagine it? Maybe our readers doesn't even know what a social media advisor do. What do you do? 

We basically film the prime minister strategy, posting things, editing, spending time with him, accompanying him when it comes to events and help, basically assisting him with whatever he needs. So it really changed the course of my life because I love to meet new people, speak around the world and make videos. It is still a dream of mine. And I am very happy that I didn't give up on my childhood dream, to meet new people around the world, learn about their culture, make new friends, speak to truth about Israel and make videos.  

Photo: Shutterstock/Puzzlepix

 Just two months ago, I visited the US and a month before that in Canada, in Norway, and Dubai, and Turkey.

I really believe that it is a very important mission to build bridges between peoples.

So it really changed my life, but it also gave me this thought, this conclusion that if you have a dream, you can really make it come true. Never in my life I imagined that I would be working for the prime minister of my country.  I used to be a very shy person. If you'd ask one of my classmates if they'd have imagined me doing what I do today, they would be in disbelief. Obviously, I give all the glory to God for this.

You mentioned God, and I wanted to talk to you about your fate a little bit because I know that last time I asked you for an interview, we postponed it because it was a rather hard or complicated time around your appointments. I recall the Israeli media giving you a hard time because you openly said that you follow Jesus and you love Jesus. And could you elaborate a little bit on that? How did it feel like? How could you overcome it? And where did it come from? What was their problem?

Well, for me it is never sensitive to talk about God or about my faith. I am not trying to push any of my beliefs on anyone. I believe that every human being should have their own personal relationship with God, I feel like it is not my job to tell them what to believe in. Being open about my faith is very natural for me, because I have nothing to be ashamed of. First of all, it is a fact that Jesus was a Jew. He was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth. He actually proved that Jews are ancestral to Israel because he lived here. Today the Palestinian Authority and all kinds of anti-Israel activists saying that Jesus was Palestinian. It doesn't make any sense.

I am for loving my neighbors. I want all the best for them, but I will not tolerate lies. I will be there to expose them.

But talking about my faith, it is sensitive for people especially if you look back in history with the Crusaders who were forcing people to convert or die. The relationship between Christians and Jews changed a lot since then, Christians are believing in God's word, reading the same Bible the Jews are reading. This is a new amazing development.

I have to say that as a Jew myself choosing to follow Jesus is my own decision. I'm not ashamed of it. Why should I need to be ashamed of who I am, of my identity, in a place where we embrace liberalism, pluralism.

When I say liberalism, it is not the kind that the left is trying to push today because I feel like they completely hijacked the term to only serve their political agenda.

Liberalism should mean you are free to choose for yourself. If you want to do something, do it, if you don't want do it, you should not get in trouble for that either. This is my personal faith and I love to keep it personal, because it's easier to grow this way. I am not looking to upset people nor to get a likes and attention.

I am just a human being who chose to believe in that and to me that is something that I am proud of, to follow the truth.

How did you find this truth? How did you meet Jesus and what does it mean for you walking with him every day of your life?

Well, it is very interesting. My parents made aliah. We call immigration aliah, because you are ascending back to your homeland. They came to Israel from the former Soviet Union with the help of the Jewish Agency, who smuggled them to Budapest and from Budapest to Tel Aviv. Here in Israel, they obviously were practicing Jews, celebrating all the Jewish holidays. But they felt like they want more. Somehow they heard about Jesus from the Jewish perspective and they were intrigued by that.

Photo: Hananya Naftali

To make a long story short, I was born into this culture of faith. I was privileged to grow up around that, but I did make my own decision to follow Him myself around the age of 14. I'm introvert. I love to read and to research things myself. I don't like to be told what to do or how I should think. So I was researching myself and this was the truth that I have found and it makes me feel complete. It makes me feel like I'm doing something meaningful because life is not the way I see it.

Life is not about me. Life is about a greater purpose. And for me, it is to stand for the truth, defend Israel and live for God.

The beauty of Israel in a way is that you can be whoever you want. At the end of the day, you will not be prosecuted and thrown into prison for it, like people do in certain countries around the world. We have pluralism. Obviously there are radical minorities everywhere, in Hungary as well, who would oppose what you believe in and would tell you to think differently. But the thing is that radicals don't represent the majority or the country. They think that they do because they are the loudest.

Today I am encouraging people who love Israel, who are passionate about something, to be loud about it, to not be ashamed of the truth, to defend the facts. 

Before becoming an influencer in the social media advisor, you spend a few years in the military, fighting Hamas. On several occasions you came very close to very dangerous situations and you escaped them in a way that is really can be perceived as a miracle and as a divine intervention, could you tell us a little bit about those? 

When people hear about the Israeli army, they immediately imagine what CNN is telling them, that we're a bunch of soldiers with uniforms holding guns and just shooting children, invading homes, knocking on doors, taking out families and throwing them out to the street. This is how the mainstream media is portraying us. It's not true.

The first thing that you get when you join the Israeli army is not a weapon, even if you're joining a combat position like I did, but a small booklet with the IDF code of ethics.

They are first teaching you how to behave like a human being, how to preserve human life, value humanity and to know how to defend these values and how to stand up for them. Only then you are given a weapon to fight terrorists. When you're not in Israel or in Hungary, it is very easy to distort facts and to portray things in your own way according to your agenda. Because today in the world of social media,

if someone wants to wake up one morning and say, I want to show that Hungary is a dictatorship, they will find a way to show this, ignoring the facts, ignoring the truth. Same thing with Israel today.

After my 19th birthday, I was sent into the Gaza Strip in Operation Protective Edge. In one of the exchanges of fire, we were inside the Gaza Strip fighting, and my job in the tank was to stand. I was the ammunition loader. You have to have your head out unfortunately, to make sure that no terrorist is climbing on the tank and throw a grenade inside. It was my turn to guard and I had my head out.

Suddenly I heard wind in my ear. It felt like a video game, except that it was not. It was a bullet flying. I could hear the wind right next to my ear.

My commander immediately pulled me inside the tank. A few minutes later, we found out that it was actually a sniper and one of the forces on the ground were able to locate and target him. But this is just miraculous. I came very close to losing my own life. I do have a friend, who died from the same situation. A sniper hit his head when it was out.

Photo: Hananya Naftali

This is just one of my stories. Inside the Gaza Strip, you don't have a lot of things that you can carry with you, especially not your phone. You're forbidden from taking the smartphone. But I did bring my small Bible with me because I told myself that if there is anything I want to do in my spare time is to charge my faith and my mental strength. And it really did charge me, I felt like new energy, new strength that I could not explain.

It happened just by reading maybe a small Bible verse from Psalms about king David crying out to God about his problems and, wow, it was very powerful. I also knew and felt that a lot of people were praying for Israel. People were praying for Israel in the churches, in the synagogues even in Hungary.

While you were not able to see the outcome, you were praying without seeing what's happening in Israel, I could feel your prayers.

I could feel the prayers helping the soldiers to defend Israel. Praying is so important even if you can't even know or feel the results, but I could feel them on the ground. And on that note, I really want to thank the strong Hungarians that were praying for Israel. I believe that it played an important role in keeping us safe. So really, thank you. 

Let's talk a little bit about politics as well, because elections are coming up and we saw a lot of elections in Israel in the past few years, I lost count. So I just wanted to ask your opinion about it, how do you see it, and what are the chances Netanyahu might actually return to power this time? 

I think that this is a really crucial election season because we are seeing so much division and hate against Netanyahu voters, against the Likud and just hate in general. This division is not going to help Israel in the long run. Our enemies are looking into Israel, seeing all this division, all this hatred that is ongoing, and it is really not helping the country.

The head of the Shabak, the Israeli intelligence agency was saying that one of the things that motivated Palestinian terrorists who were attacking Israel is the fragile, unstable situation.

So we have that, but I believe that Netanyahu has good chances. In the last elections is that not many right wing voters came to vote, we need to encourage them. One of the campaigns that you are seeing now is people are saying one plus one is four. It basically means if you are a voter of the Likud, you bring another voter that didn't vote, we are going to get four years of a stable strong government. This is what I want to see, and this is what so many Israelis want to see.

I think that right-wing voters need to wake up, because worldwide, and I feel like in Hungary too, they are fully woken up and going out to vote and expressing their right of vote because it is one of our most important democratic rights.

You mentioned that this division is a very big problem for Israel. But what do you think is the biggest challenge now? 

I think that there is a very interesting development in the Middle East that not many people are seeing and it is that more and more Arab countries are coming forward, extending their hand for peace. I visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi in March and I visited the Expo where basically the entire world is there, and I decided to wear my kippa to one of the biggest mosques in the Middle East, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I felt very safe.

People were coming to say Shalom, Salaam Aleikum to me. This is a new fresh air of peace, it is amazing what is happening in the Middle East.

We are seeing more and more countries saying: if the Palestinians don't want to make peace with Israel, fine. Their problem, we will make peace. More and more nations understand that Israel is not the obstacle for peace. It is the terrorists and their leaders who are paying them. Can you imagine a country where you can stab a Jew and you get a monthly salary for this based on how many years you get in prison?

The greatest challenge that Israel is facing right now is Iran of course. I think that the world should wake up to see how dangerous this situation is.

Iran is a country of more than 80 million people and these millions of Iranians are not trusting their own government, they are not trusting their radical Islamist regime. Radical Islam has brought nothing but destruction, terror. They want to dominate the world, not just the Middle East. They are expanding their empire into Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and they're not going to stop there.


You see more countries in the Middle East that want to acquire F35 fighter jets. Why do they want to do that? Certainly not because of Israel, but because of Iran. They are neighbors with Iran and they understand the great threat that it poses on them. So the West should wake up. It is really upsetting to see all these leaders to talk about how great they are at preserving human life, human rights and women's rights.

But what about the women in Iran? What about the Iranian people that are suffering under the weight of the Islamist regime? They are too afraid and it just doesn't serve their agenda. It is too much work for them.

We are sick and tired of leaders that are great with talk and weak with action.

We need leaders who act, who do something, and not just leaders who are sleeping. In this changing world that we are seeing, we need leaders that are not afraid of making strong decisions. Sometimes you have to prepare for a war if you want to have peace unfortunately. These radicals, they don't understand your handshake. They don't want to make deals with you, they want to destroy you. So the only thing they understand is an iron fist. 

I know that you are trying to fight fake news, misinformation, disinformation with everything you got. And you were talking about radicals and there are a lot of them in Israel. Do you get threats because of your activism? Do you get into dangerous situations because of what you are telling your viewers?

Yeah. I get these messages. Some say we will find you once that I would love to slit your throat. I love when I get death threats, because it means that the truth is reaching exactly the people that don't want to see the truth. I don't want to just preach to the choir, I want to reach exactly the people that need to see the truth. So if it gets them angry, I've succeeded with my mission. These people are always strong with words and very weak with action.

If you're threatening to kill me, come, try. Why not? Let's see how that goes out for you.

These people, they're talking out of anger and out of hate, and it only exposes their true colors. While I'm talking about peace.

Photo: Hananya Naftali

I'm talking about standing up for peace and standing against terrorists, and then you're threatening to kill me, it shows who you stand for. It is these people that celebrate when Jews are killed. It's these people that hand out candies when attacks occur.

We are talking about Israel, but I really have to say and conclude with that is that I think one of the reasons that Hungarians are standing with Israel and that the conservative community is very strong. You have not failed to understand how important it is to not be silent and to stand up when lies emerge, because it's so easy to deceive people.

Standing up for Israel is standing up for Hungary, for a strong Hungary, because we are both dealing with the same thing.

We are seeing this not just radicals, but illegal immigrants that want to enter Hungary and you don't know who they are. Today people will say that it is racist to say that. You guys know what you're doing and you're facing a lot of hate for this. I feel like we are sharing very common values and there is a great future for Hungary and Israel together, because we both understand the dangers radicalism bring and we share the same truth. 

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