Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, the two leaders of the new Blue and White Party, promised voters on Thursday that their joint list will defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the April 9 election.
They spoke at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds immediately after convening their new faction for the first time and after polls indicated that they could win the vote. A Channel 13 poll predicted
36 seats for the new party and 26 for Likud, while a Channel 12 poll gave it a 36 to 30 lead. A KAN poll found the race closer, 35 to 32.
“This is a historic day for Israel because this picture of unity has not been seen here for dozens of years,” Gantz said. “All of us have an ego and agenda, but when we saw the country torn apart, we put our egos aside, decided on a mutual agenda and decided to run together. We will work as a team to fix Israel.”
Gantz revealed that his mother, Malka, who survived the Holocaust, lived in the same building in the Budapest Ghetto as Yair Lapid’s father, Tommy.
Lapid compared what he called the “one-man rule” of Netanyahu with the teamwork of his new party.
“A winning team needs to be led,” Lapid said. “I wouldn’t be standing here today if I didn’t believe that Benny Gantz could lead us to victory and then lead the country. He’ll be an excellent prime minister. I believe in him.”
If the leaders of the party form the government, the premiership will be rotated during the party’s expected tenure. Gantz would serve as leader until November 2021 and Ya’alon would hold the role of defense minister. After that, Lapid would become premier, and Gantz would take on the role of defense minister.
Netanyahu went on the offensive after Gantz and Lapid’s parties united to form Blue and White, saying they will endanger Israel’s security and economic success.
Minutes after all three major news channels presented polls showing the new party surpassing Likud, Netanyahu warned that “It is not at all certain” that his party will remain in power, and called for right-wing voters to go to the polls and vote for Likud.
“We may have a left-wing, Lapid-Gantz government relying on Arab parties. A government like this will destroy our economy. Sooner or later, probably sooner, they will establish a Palestinian state... that will endanger our existence,” he said.
Netanyahu focused on painting the new bloc as solidly on the Left, instead of the centrist image it has sought to project.
“We have been in this picture twice before with generals on the Left who dress up as Right and talk about unity, but want left-wing policies,” he said, recounting the two previous times he was defeated in a Knesset election. “In 1992 we got [Yitzhak] Rabin and the Oslo disaster, and in 1999 we got [Ehud] Barak and the Intifada, with exploding buses and over a thousand killed.
“When I’m prime minister, you’re not afraid to get on a bus or enter a restaurant,” he added.
Netanyahu referred to a speech Gantz gave last week, in which he said he had decades of experience defending Israel while Netanyahu had moved to the US. Netanyahu pointed out that while Gantz mocked him he agreed to a rotation for the premiership with Lapid, “whose only security experience is being a reporter for the military newspaper. Think about that.”
The prime minister warned that Lapid and Gantz seek to make concessions to the Palestinians, quoting them speaking approvingly about the Gaza disengagement.
Netanyahu also quoted Lapid as calling the major powers’ agreement with Iran a done deal, which he contrasted with his persistence in calling to cancel the deal.
The prime minister touted his achievements in bolstering the economy and foreign relations.
“Heads of powerful countries want connections with Israel, including Arab states,” he said.
Netanyahu referred to low unemployment, Israel exporting gas to countries in the region and the cybersecurity sector, as opposed to Lapid, who, in his capacity as talk show host, once admitted to Netanyahu on live TV that he knew nothing about economics.
“He was right,” Netanyahu said. “He was a failed finance minister. Maybe the worst in Israel’s history. And Benny Gantz bankrupted his company in his only experience in the private sector.”
Netanyahu also referred to Histadrut labor federation chief Avi Nissenkorn being on the Blue and White list, saying he’s the “head of the monopolistic union that prevents competition in the market.”
Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who entered politics on Thursday, said he joined Blue and White because he saw it as a winning team.
“I believe we can complete our mission and I have no doubt we will succeed,” Ashkenazi said.
Earlier at the faction meeting, Ashkenazi said he was sure President Reuven Rivlin would prefer to ask his party to form the government and not Netanyahu. The President’s Residence denied what Ashkenazi said, saying the decision would be made professionally after the election, following regular procedures.
There are only two women
in Blue and White’s top 10: former anchorwoman Miki Haimovich and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai, who is the most decorated woman in IDF history.
The complete top 10 is Gantz, Lapid, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, Ashkenazi, Histadrut labor federation head Avi Nissenkorn, MK Meir Cohen, Haimovich, MK Ofer Shelah, journalist Yoaz Hendel and Barbivai.
The deal was reached after a full night of meetings between Gantz, Lapid and their closest advisers at Gantz’s office in the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. Their joint political platform has yet to be completed.
Earlier Thursday, the Likud secretariat approved the party’s final list.
After a final ruling by the Likud’s court, cigarette lobbyist Keren Barak’s spot as No. 25, reserved for a new female candidate, was assured.
MK Sharren Haskel was bumped up to a realistic 29th place after the reserved place for an immigrant candidate was canceled. MK Avraham Neguise had been in that spot, but because in all previous elections it was reserved for a first-time candidate, the Likud court canceled it, bumping up Haskel, who had received far more votes.
In keeping with Netanyahu’s commitment to Bayit Yehudi, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan was put in 28th place on the party list.
Netanyahu also chose to appoint Erez Tadmor, one of his speechwriters, a member of the Likud campaign team and a founder of the right-wing organization Im Tirzu, in 41st place on the Likud list. The spot does not have a realistic chance of getting into the Knesset according to any poll conducted this election season.
“I am appointing a person who is a member of Likud, works and writes for the Likud, and helped us in our elections headquarters. He is a writer, a journalist and a broadcaster,” Netanyahu said of Tadmor.