Gantz boycotts coalition votes, threatens survival of Bennett-led gov't

Blue and White Party refuses to participate in Knesset votes due to disputes over pensions for IDF officers.

 Minister of Defense Benny Gantz speaks at a conference of the Israeli newspaper "Makor Rishon" at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Minister of Defense Benny Gantz speaks at a conference of the Israeli newspaper "Makor Rishon" at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition had to withdraw all its bills on Monday night due to a boycott from Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Blue and White faction over pensions for top IDF officers.Bennett invited Gantz to his Knesset office but the meeting ended without a conclusion after Gantz received word that coalition officials were accusing him of behaving in a childish manner and caring more about money for his army buddies than the security of the state.

Blue and White officials said the threats were serious and the biggest coalition crisis since the government was formed. However, Bennett downplayed the crisis at an Israel Bar Association conference later on Monday night.

“Sometimes there are lots of small things” that need to be done to hold governments together, Bennett said. “I believe people will understand the need to maintain stability and save the country from more and more rounds of elections.”

In a statement released by Blue and White, Gantz’s faction lamented the “harm to the security of the state and a commitment made by the coalition.” In his faction meeting, Gantz also complained about a stalemate in passing the IDF draft bill for haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and other issues pertaining to his ministry.

“It pains me that populist politicians, some of whom are post-Zionists, decided to knowingly harm the security of the state and its career soldiers who are protecting it,” he said.

Likud faction chairman Yariv Levin said it took Gantz “too long to realize that Bennett, who cheated his voters, cheated him, too. Childish disputes, no management, zero leadership. Israel deserves a different government.”

Earlier, both Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid expressed support for the significant rise in pensions for IDF officers, which are opposed by Labor and Meretz and Deputy Minister Abir Kara of Yamina.

 IDF soldiers practice evacuating injured soldiers during a 2022 winter military drill. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) IDF soldiers practice evacuating injured soldiers during a 2022 winter military drill. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

The fight over pensions was only one dispute inside the coalition that raged on Monday. Liberman mocked Labor and Meretz for opposing his economic reforms, warning that their populism could harm the economy.

“Raising the minimum wage too much could cause unemployment, inflation and more raises in prices,” he said, adding that the smaller minimum wage hike he proposed would make it more than the federal minimum wage in the US.

But after saying that no changes can be made to the plan, he appeared to backtrack on Monday, saying that if the professionals in his ministry decide it can be changed, it could be.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli said the government cannot harm the weakest part of the working population – those on minimum wage.

“This is what the Labor Party is fighting for now and we will not give up,” she told her faction. “We say clearly: government policy must take care of everyone. We cannot allow the minimum wage to be eroded. We cannot, nor will we, allow those for whom this wage is really a matter of life and death to be harmed. We believe in reaching agreements. We are not interested in shows of strength or ego battles. We believe in this government, we are committed to it, and we are committed to the rights of workers in Israel.”