Blue and White Party chairman Benny Gantz crossed a rhetorical redline this week that made every other malicious maneuver of the current campaign, on both sides of the political spectrum, seem like child’s play.
In an interview he gave on Tuesday – exactly one week ahead of the Knesset elections – Gantz likened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Yes, the leading contender in the race for the premiership actually compared the incumbent leader of the only democracy in the region – and a flourishing one, at that, despite abnormal external threats and normal internal woes – to a radical Islamist autocrat, who imprisons anyone he deems a dissident.
Expressing “deep worry” for Israeli democracy, Gantz explained, “What we… see is a phenomenon reminiscent of Turkey, where Erdogan is protecting himself from investigations and from other efforts aimed at preventing corruption.”
Even the Times of Israel reporters did a double take on that statement – which was not only a pathetically mild and misleading description of Erdogan’s Stalin-like purges and absolute control of every sector of Turkish society, but also an egregious misrepresentation of Netanyahu’s legitimate efforts to counter charges that have not even been formally brought against him. Unlike Turks subjected to Erdogan’s repressive rule, after all, Israeli citizens enjoy human and civil rights. Among these is the presumption of innocence.
But it was only the former part of Gantz’s outlandish analogy that his interviewers challenged, by asking whether he really fears that Israel “could become like Turkey.”
“Yes,” Gantz replied. “And we are headed there. I am very worried about it.”
Perhaps realizing that such a comment might be construed as a lack of faith not only in Netanyahu but in the nature of the country as a whole, he quickly added, “I hope not, of course. Judaism is the best basis for democracy. The debate between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, the constant debate, has been a tradition of ours for thousands of years.”
Still, he couldn’t resist repeating the parallel that he or one of his flunkies had proudly conjured up after Sunday’s municipal elections in Turkey. Erdogan, he reiterated, “made sure that you can’t investigate him, and you can’t put him on trial – and not his family either. You are going to get the Israeli version of the Turkish system. It won’t be the same, it will be something like it. That’s what will happen here.”
Asked if he considers the future of the country to be at stake, Gantz didn’t hesitate.
“Yes,” he said.
HE GAVE a longer response to the next question, however, which was whether, in the event that Netanyahu gets reelected, he is “worried for the future of the police, the courts [and] the media.”
Nodding, Gantz answered: “Tell me if it sounds normal to you. The culture minister attacks the cultural institutions. The police minister attacks the police. The justice minister attacks the courts. The security cabinet attacks the IDF. And the prime minister attacks everyone – including the media, because he was also communications minister. It’s already happening.”
The future of Israel, he reiterated to the Times of Israel, “is at stake. As a democracy, it is at stake. I’m not saying the problem is coming here tomorrow, but the trend is very, very, very dangerous.”
There’s irony for you.
The so-called “dangerous trend” to which he was referring is actually a positive progression in a system based on the will of the people, not the whim of despots like Erdogan.
Israelis enjoy free speech, for instance, but do not wish to spend their tax shekels on “art” that portrays them as murderous thugs. Hence, Culture Minister Miri Regev’s policy of being discerning when it comes to funding projects has been welcomed by the public.
Nor do Israelis appreciate the degree to which the courts have become interventionist in political matters. This is why, to give another example, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s moves to clip the wings of the judiciary have been widely popular.
As for the police, well, most Israelis consider it alternately ineffective and corrupt, as well as a major source of scandals and leaks. It wasn’t until the prime minister dared to join in the criticism that law-enforcement officials were catapulted to sainthood status by anti-Netanyahu pundits and other hypocrites.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu – whose “attacks on everyone, including the media” are a cause of such great concern to Gantz – is the one under constant assault. He is investigated by the police, hindered by the courts and eviscerated by the press. Whether it is wise of him to lash out verbally in return is arguable.
WHAT IS NOT a matter of debate, however, is that the situation in Turkey is just the opposite. Erdogan has incarcerated thousands of judges, policemen, professors, politicians and members of the media. In fact, Turkey today is reportedly the world’s largest jailer of journalists.
Given Gantz’s impressive display of ignorance throughout the interview – including admitting to the two journalists gently grilling him, “Listen, you are more experienced than me” – it’s no wonder that he has spent the bulk of his newfound political career looking pretty and keeping his mouth shut.
Too bad he didn’t ask Netanyahu for crib notes on free vs. tyrannical societies and the definition of democracy. While he was at it, he might have requested a review of Erdogan’s record of repression against his own people and his history of virulent anti-Israeli activity, not to mention open antisemitism. Like when he told Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan in 2016: “I don’t agree with what Hitler did and I also don’t agree with what Israel did in Gaza. Therefore, there’s no place for comparison in order to say what’s more barbaric.”
This little morsel of Erdogan’s came mere months after the failed coup attempt against him, which some Turks believe he orchestrated to enable placing even more people behind bars, in addition to other oppressive measures geared at silencing critics and consolidating his reign of terror.
For Gantz to suggest that Netanyahu is on a similar path is not simply a stupid slip of the tongue, however. It is nearly as inexcusable as Erdogan’s Nazi metaphor – and no less abhorrent than the purposely pernicious accusation that Israel is an apartheid state.
What Gantz did in one fell swoop was to undermine the uphill battle fought by so many dedicated defenders of the Jewish state against enemy propaganda. As a former IDF chief of staff, the candidate who hopes to wrest the reins from Netanyahu probably doesn’t believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. From a military man’s perspective, this makes sense. Particularly in the case of Israel – whose soldiers and civilians are treated to daily stabbings, car rammings, Molotov cocktails and rocket barrages – a more apt adage might be, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
NEVERTHELESS, even Gantz must be aware of the many attempts by the government he wishes to head – and numerous private individuals at home and abroad – to counter the delegitimization of Israel in general, and specifically combat the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. As someone who repeatedly boasts about his impeccable Zionist and patriotic credentials, he should know that such adjectives are used by Israel’s detractors as weapons in the war against the Jews.
It’s difficult to determine the extent of his cognizance on this score, since he hasn’t mentioned it. Nor has he made reference to the Palestinian social media pages filled with antisemitic vitriol and incitement to slaughter Israelis – a phenomenon that the current government has been pressuring Facebook and Twitter to eradicate.
Instead, he has been preoccupied with what appears to be an incorrect New York Times/Yediot Aharonot
news story by Ronen Bergman about a network of Internet bots and trolls employed by Netanyahu’s Likud Party to garner votes.
In fairness, perhaps the “anybody but Netanyahu” candidate is not Web-savvy enough to grasp the absurdity of the scoop, even if it turned out to be true.
Gantz made a final fool of himself by saying that at times, he has been forced to stoop to Netanyahu’s “low” level of campaign discourse – “but in principle, I think that Israel deserves something more respectful, more statesmanlike, more serious. So I try to maintain the high ground as far as possible.”
Equating Netanyahu with Erdogan is not just the antithesis of “respectful, statesmanlike and serious.” Nor is it simply a form of hitting a political rival below the belt. It is utterly immoral, and should be viewed with the horror it deserves.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>