It has barely been a week since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced an unprecedented political attack from four former IDF chiefs of staff – Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz – yet it already seems like ancient history.
The attacks from Barak and Ya’alon on Netanyahu at the annual Herzliya Conference were loud and clear.
Ya’alon announced firmly that he was running for prime minister. But then he went back to being unemployed with no regular platform other than social media.
Barak called for “civil rebellion” in what at first appeared to be a political comeback. But he later told The Jerusalem Post that he was not interested in running against Netanyahu or in receiving a cabinet appointment from him.
The attacks from Ashkenazi and Gantz were quieter.
All they did was join a movement, seen as anti-Netanyahu, called Pnima and, in Gantz’s case, briefly join marchers to Jerusalem who were pushing for socioeconomic equality. The timing of that news last Thursday was enough to put their pictures on the covers of last weekend’s Hebrew papers, alongside Ya’alon’s and Barak’s, under the headline “The generals attack.”
All that was reported initially about Pnima is that it was founded by former education minister Rabbi Shai Piron of Yesh Atid, who denied that the movement is political. Not much has come out since, which is remarkable considering how many big names are involved in Pnima, which means inward in Hebrew.
The Post has learned that besides the former IDF chiefs of staff, Pnima’s participants include mayors Michael Biton of Yeroham, Shimon Lancry of Acre, Sigal Moran of Bnei Shimon Regional Council, and Talal al-Kirnawi of Rahat; rabbis Piron and Micha Goodman; businessman Shlomo Dovrat; and Google Israel education manager Adi Altschuler, who was named one of Time magazine’s Next Generation Leaders after founding Kremo Wings, a movement that runs after-school activities for children with disabilities.
Piron has sworn all of Pnima’s participants to secrecy, and nearly all have obeyed him.
“I am sorry but I am not interviewing on the issue, because we are still at the beginning of our path,” Piron wrote when asked for information.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Pnima participants shared the movement’s broad mission: “To build a new vision for the state, renew its ideas and create a new horizon.”
That may sound like a sanitized and snobby way of saying “replacing Netanyahu,” but each and every participant in Pnima would deny that it is the movement’s goal. Nevertheless, the movement could end up giving its participants the tools that could assist that non-objective.
Pnima participants have been touring the country together and learning about its sectors. They went to Yeroham to learn about developments towns, they will tour Rahat to learn about Beduin after Ramadan, and special emphasis has been placed on how to be sensitive to haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and settlers.
“We are exploring new perspectives on Israel’s sectors,” one participant said.
“We know we have to work with them to build consensus, not be patronizing like Yair Lapid has been accused of being with the haredim.”
Some Pnima participants joined a march on Jerusalem demanding socioeconomic equality that was organized by Biton. On the march, they learned how and why state funds have not been distributed equally.
Pnima meetings last for hours, and its participants ask many questions. They treat the movement as a start-up that has to be coddled and taken care of.
Gantz and Ashkenazi have been particularly good students, revealing curiosity on a number of issues that prospective leaders of Israel need to know about. For instance, the generals were enthralled by a lecture given by Goodman on the philosophies of the secular, religious Zionists, and haredim in Israel.
“A very significant group is coming together,” one participant said. “Everyone there is an expert in his field and has the skills to exercise a vision, but we must first learn from each other. Only then can our ability to have influence and prove ourselves be tested.”
Pnima is not a political party in the making, but it does appear to be an incubator for future leaders in multiple parties who could challenge Netanyahu in the future. For instance, Gantz and Ashkenazi are already military experts and leaders, but they have much to learn about internal Israeli society, the economy, matters of religion and state and other key issues.
So ironically, Pnima, which means inward, could end up pushing its participants upward.
If that happens for Gantz or Ashkenazi, then in retrospect, their joining Pnima could in the future be remembered in retrospect as a much louder attack on Netanyahu than the speeches in Herzliya of Ya’alon or Barak.