In 1976, Yigael Yadin was the first former Israeli army commander-in-chief to establish a new party, the Democratic Movement.
Moshe Dayan followed by creating Telem in 1981, while Ehud Barak broke away from Labor and formed the Independence Party in 2011. Benny Gantz became the last in this series when he recently initiated Israel Resilience.
He has been joined there by another former commander-in-chief, Moshe Ya’alon, who had earlier formed his Telem Party.
In order to better analyze Gantz’s actions, chances and future, it is worthwhile to identify the similarities and differences between Gantz and his party and Yadin and his movement. The first evident major similarity between the two parties is that they both were initiated and led by senior people with defense and security backgrounds.
In 1976, I was invited to join Yadin’s inner circle, preparing the creation of his movement as its economic expert. This circle was all there was at the time.
In the first meeting I attended, we were at most 10 people at Yadin’s home. Another former Army commander-in-chief, Chaim Laskov, was also present. He was then the IDF’s controller.
After that meeting, Laskov dropped out of the group. Two former major generals, Meir Zorea and Air Force commander Dan Tolkowsky, were also in attendance. Furthermore, Isser Harel, a long-term former Mossad chief, was present. The organizer of this small group was Yehuda Arbel, a former senior Shin Beit (Israel Security Agency) official.
The Democratic Movement was not born out of deep ideological convictions. It was created by people who were fed up with the existing political situation. Mapai, the Labor Party, had been the ruling party in Israel since independence.
The Golda Meir government had failed in the Yom Kippur War, as there were many casualties. There were major cases of corruption by senior Mapai members. Former army commander-in-chief, Yitzhak Rabin, was the prime minister in 1976. He had little political experience.
Yadin did not have a great vision about Israel’s future. Amid those meeting at his home on Ramban Street in Jerusalem, the dominant mood was, “We will do what Mapai wants to do, but much better.”
Similarly, Israel Resilience has no profound ideological substance. It was born out of frustration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the incompetence of the Labor opposition.
Gantz has had four years since leaving the army to familiarize himself with the major components of Israeli society, and to plan for important changes. So far, nothing indicates that he has developed a major vision for Israel’s future.
An important difference between the two former commanders-in-chief is that Gantz, who has no political experience, wants to become prime minister within a few months.
Yadin had no such ambitions. He wanted to create a movement that would obtain enough seats in the Knesset to force Mapai’s hand, getting the party to include the movement in a coalition government, and thus obtain influence in a variety of areas.
MOST OF the Democratic Movement’s founders were mainstream as far as security issues were concerned.
Some were Right of center. The Democratic Movement, still tiny, soon merged with the small Shinui (Change) Party, which was far to its Left on security matters. It then became the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), known by its Hebrew acronym Dash. Other groups and tens of thousands of individuals joined.
The most critical difference between the DMC and Israel Resilience is internal democracy.
The Knesset candidates of the DMC were determined in primaries that used a highly complicated election system. The first 15 became MKs. Having been elected by the party’s members, they did not feel they owed much to Yadin. This led to the beginning of the DMC’s downfall.
Israel Resilience has no such problems. Whoever becomes an MK will do so largely – or entirely – because of Gantz, who has mainly determined the candidates list. The playing field has changed radically since 1977. Many voters then had – in all previous Knesset elections – supported the same party.
As a result, the DMC had to create floating voters. Nowadays floating voters dominate.
There are other substantial differences. Social media did not exist in 1977.
A strong party infrastructure throughout the entire country, difficult to build up, was required in order to convince and mobilize people. There were virtually no spin doctors to guide candidates on what to say on TV, radio and elsewhere. Gantz could benefit from such guidance before the upcoming election. These changes are all in favor of Israel Resilience when compared with the DMC.
DMC successfully managed to weaken Mapai, which lost the 1977 elections.
The new right-wing coalition government led by Menachem Begin was, however, not dependent on the DMC’s support. It took the DMC some time to accept Begin’s invitation to join the government.
Yadin became deputy prime minister, and inter alia, developed an important partnership program between Israeli development neighborhoods and towns on the one hand, and Diaspora communities on the other.
The only other Democratic Movement founder who entered the Knesset, Meir Zorea, was soon frustrated.
He resigned his seat within a year. When the DMC joined the government, its break-up began. Shinui and supporters left. Yadin could not keep his remaining MKs under control. In 1981, the party – renamed again Democratic Movement after the first breakup – did not even participate in the Knesset elections. Dayan died soon after the 1981 election.
His Telem Party did not run again. Barak’s Independence never participated in an election.
That development may hold yet another message for Gantz. If Israel Resilience is not in the government, does he have “the sitting power” to stay in the Knesset for four years? How frustrating will it be for him – after having been in charge of major crucial military actions – to be a leader of the Knesset opposition? All the more so, as he does not present much of an alternative vision. In opposition, his role would boil largely down to being present and making speeches in the Knesset, and having discussions in the building’s cafeteria.
The writer is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and an editor of the book series, ‘Israel at the Polls on the Last Four Knesset Elections.’
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