Tension was evident between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s new session on April 30.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There was a certain logic in the last election campaign to Benny Gantz’s strategy of saying nothing. The Blue and White leader wanted to portray himself as a blank canvas on which voters from the Center-Right to the Center-Left could paint their own image of him and vote Blue and White accordingly.
It almost worked. Blue and White gave the Likud a good run for its money, although in the end the wider bloc of right-wing and haredi parties won a convincing majority. If it wasn’t for the inexplicable behavior of Avigdor Liberman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have formed his fifth ruling coalition by now, instead of still having to scramble around with the unpleasant likes of Bezalel Smotrich to set up a temporary government to see the country through until September.
With elections only three months away, Gantz can no longer afford the luxury of his Trappist monk impersonation. He is not a novelty anymore, a political virgin who can charm the voters with his impressive physical appearance and calm demeanor. And anyway, it didn’t work last time. As any major-general should know, blindly repeating a failed strategy is not the way to win the battle.
Given a surprising second chance in such a short space of time, Gantz should now be in overdrive, confidently showing there is a leadership alternative to Netanyahu. From once being seen as invincible, Netanyahu is now at his weakest political point since his 1999 defeat by Ehud Barak. If there was ever a time to go on the offensive, it is now. Yet Gantz is behaving as if he had all the time in the world to unseat the prime minister and not just 90 days.
In the past week alone, Netanyahu has opened himself up to attack in three separate areas, but the leader of the opposition has failed to engage on any of these topics in any meaningful way. Instead, as in the case of newly minted Justice Minister Amir Ohana, Gantz has left it to others to lead the fight against the damage Netanyahu has unleashed on the country.
No one had any illusions about Ohana’s appointment: this relatively junior Knesset member was selected to this prestigious ministry only as a reward for his sycophantic support for the Netanyahu family in myriad media interviews and his public backing for the prime minister’s attempt to secure immunity from prosecution in the cases against him.
The cynic in Netanyahu obviously enjoyed appointing the openly gay Likud politician to the post coveted by the noted homophobe Smotrich, but Ohana was not selected to spread a message of openness and respect for the law.
On the very day he was appointed justice minister, Ohana was already giving interviews, stating that not all of the Supreme Court’s rulings should be honored. In an unprecedented reaction, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut immediately slapped him down, sharply pointing out that with such an “irresponsible judicial worldview... the path to anarchy, in which everyone does what they feel like, is short.” Hayut’s intervention, and a second rebuke to Ohana from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, eventually compelled Netanyahu to blandly tweet that “court decisions are binding upon everyone.”
But where was Gantz as this story was playing out? Why was he not outside the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem, giving interviews explaining how Netanyahu is determinedly seeking to weaken the country’s legal system in order to avoid the possible jail term staring him in the face, should he be convicted of the bribery and breach of trust charges hanging over him?
And where has Gantz or any Blue and White spokesman been, to attack the government’s planned NIS 3.5 billion budget cuts? These cuts are actually mere window dressing for the real cuts that are needed – around NIS 22.6b. in the 2020 budget according to the Finance Ministry – if the government is to meet its deficit target.
For the past two years, the Netanyahu government has been running a reckless policy of election economics, irresponsibly handing out freebies to certain sectors of the population with no care as to who will pay the bill afterward. When finance minister under Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu was a prudent manager of the economy – but those days are long gone, undermined by Netanyahu’s singular goal of ensuring, by whatever means necessary, that he remains prime minister.
FOR THE next three months – every single day – Gantz needs to ask himself: What would Bibi do if he were leader of the opposition? For example, after a rocket directly hit a yeshiva last Thursday in Sderot, if the roles were reversed, Netanyahu would have gone straight to the site of the incident to slam Gantz for failing to provide security to Israel’s citizens and repeatedly condemn him for weakness in the fight against Hamas terrorism.
In the past elections, Netanyahu portrayed Gantz as weak; now is the time for Gantz to turn the tables. Aside from allowing the transfer of protection money from Qatar to Gaza, the prime minister has significantly failed to show any initiative in solving the crisis on Israel’s southern border, and Israeli citizens are suffering as a result of his inactions.
Around all these issues – security, economics and Netanyahu’s attacks on the legal system – Gantz’s silence is enigmatic, although this time it’s not because we don’t know what he believes. The question today, three months before polling, is whether Gantz truly wants to be prime minister. Because if he does, he’s going about it the wrong way.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
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