Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz checked all the boxes in his first appearance in front of the AIPAC Policy Conference: His speech combined hawkish messages regarding the conflict with Hamas and Iran, it called for bipartisanship alliance between US and Israel, and he revealed self-deprecating humor about his Israeli accent.
He received six standing ovations, most in the context of Israel’s security.
Gantz opened his speech by sending thoughts and prayers to the families whose homes were attacked by rockets in Israel.
“I will return to Israel – to stand and if needed to fight in defense of my people, our people,” said Gantz. “One thing I know for sure: Israel will once again prevail. I am a soldier. That is who I am. That is what I do. I’ve fought in battles you’ve heard of, and in operations you never will. I’ve lost friends. I carry them with me, anytime, anywhere. I have devoted my life to the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and today, as the chairman of the Blue and White Party, it is an extraordinary honor for me to be standing here before all of you.”
“But I’m not like every other soldier,” he added. “None of us are regular soldiers. We are Jewish soldiers. Our battle orders include the rules of engagement and the Ten Commandments. The computer code of the F-35 and the moral code of the prophets of Israel.”
He mentioned the word “unity” seven times in his speech, and said that it is imperative to have unity for the sake of Israel’s security.
The Blue and White leader received strong applause from the audience when he spoke about his mother – a Holocaust survivor – and his son, Nadav, who joined the Paratroopers, just like Gantz when he served as a soldier: “Between those two photographs [of his mother and his son] lies the story of Israel. Three generations and three symbols: Terrible Bergen-Belsen; the Western Wall; and the hope of a young, strong and independent Israel.”
Gantz drew chuckles from the crowd when joked about the Iranian hack of his cellphone: “I say from this stage to the Iranian regime: we will not allow you to establish yourselves in Syria. We will not allow you to develop a nuclear weapon. You know me well – and not because of my cellphone. On my watch, Iran will not become a regional power. And I will not hesitate to use force when needed.”
Gantz sent a message to Hezbollah and Hamas when he said: “We’ve met before on the battlefield. You know the result.”
He stopped short of criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by name, and told the crowd: “The reality in the south as we, unfortunately, saw today, where Israeli children spend their nights in bomb shelters, while the heads of Hamas celebrate, must end now – and it will. The heads of Hamas have forgotten what happened to Ahmed Jabari – their chief of staff. They will get a personal reminder if they continue targeting our population, as will all terrorists.”
In an apparent barb to Netanyahu and the Thyssenkrupp submarine scandal, he promised that Israel would maintain its military edge, by air, by land, by sea and even under the sea.”
Earlier he called on Netanyahu to deal with the crisis and not his personal issues, tweeting that “those who do not respond with force and instead [pay] Hamas, dismiss attacks on the citizens of the south, and scorn the attack on Tel Aviv, now get rockets in the Hasharon region. Will he now, as well, be satisfied with Hamas’s claim of an error, or will he finally focus on the security of the citizens of the state and not on his legal issues?”
Talking about a future peace agreement, Gantz promised the AIPAC crowd that Jerusalem will stay the united capital of Israel, and that the Jordan Valley will remain Israel’s eastern security border.
“The responsibility for security over the entire Land of Israel will remain in the hands of the IDF, and the IDF alone. Not like other countries, we will never ask anyone to fight for us. We will never withdraw from the Golan Heights. Never.”
Speaking on tensions around the Western Wall, Gantz talked about the need for unity between all streams of Judaism: “That is the secret weapon of the Jewish nation,” he said. “Our ability to stand united should not be taken for granted. In Bergen-Belsen, no-one asked who is Reform and who is Conservative; who is Orthodox and who is secular; before going into battle, I never checked to see who had a kippah under their helmet. The divisive dialogue tearing our strong nation apart may serve political purposes, but is shredding the fabric that holds us together.”
He added: “As a proud owner of a red beret, worn by the liberators of the Kotel [Western Wall], I can tell you with confidence that the Western Wall is long enough to accommodate everyone. Everyone.”
Gantz sent another barb in Netanyahu’s direction when he presented his vision of Israeli civil society. “There will be no corruption leading our way – no corruption whatsoever.
The leaders of Israel cannot be led by anything else other than the best interest of Israel and its people. There will be no radicals, from either side of the political map, ruling. There will be no ‘Kahanists’ running our country. There will be no racists leading our state institutions.”
Speaking about the US-Israel alliance, Gantz struggled to pronounce the word “bipartisanship,” and joked: “Bipartisanship... What a word.”
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