Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot announced on Sunday that he will run with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s newly merged party in the upcoming election.
Eisenkot has long been touted as a potential candidate for public office since he completed his term in 2018. He debated between joining Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party or Gantz’s Blue and White.
Following Eisenkot’s decision, the Blue and White-New Hope list changed its name to the National Unity Party, which will be headed by Gantz. Sa’ar will be in the second slot, and Eisenkot third.
Former Religious Services minister Matan Kahana, previously of Yamina, will also join the party.
“The State of Israel recently fell into a political crisis and instability that lasted for years, which left a deep rift in the heart of society,” Eisenkot said at a news conference on Sunday evening. “After the complete cooling-off period required by law was over, I made the decision not to sit on the sidelines, but to take action and join a statesmanlike political framework that will form the basis for a broad and stable government over time.”
Eisenkot repeated Gantz’s policy that he will not sit under Netanyahu, adding that Israel cannot accept a norm in which a sitting prime minister is under criminal proceedings.
What did Sa'ar say?
Sa’ar spoke after Eisenkot.
“This movement, which is taking the first step today, is not a technical move,” he said. “This is a profound move whose goal is to establish a deep-rooted political power for all of Israel. This movement can be, and will be, a home for anyone who is loyal to the original values of the Zionist movement in all its versions – Revisionist Zionism, the Labor movement and Religious Zionism. Today it is possible.”
The addition immediately added two seats in polls taken by both KAN and Channel 12. The party won 14 seats as opposed to 12 in its previous poll. But Eisenkot’s joining did not change the picture of the blocs, where neither the current coalition or opposition passed the 61-seat threshold.
Channel 14 poll
A Channel 14 poll, however, had the Netanyahu bloc receiving 61 seats, even with the addition of Eisenkot.
“The union, titled Machane Mamlachti in Hebrew, will take its cue from the Hebrew word Mamlachti – leading with integrity and national responsibility,” the party said in its initial statement. “It will form a base for a broad and stable government that will put an end to the ongoing political crisis, will heal the rifts within Israeli society, and advance Israel’s national interests regarding defense, the economy, homeland security and education.”
As part of the agreement signed among the three on Saturday night, it was decided that immediately after the election, the National Unity Party will begin to regulate its institutions and will hold democratic internal elections in preparation for the election to the 26th Knesset, the party said.
The former chief of staff will be bringing additional candidates to the party list, although their names have yet to be published.
Kahana will likely be inserted into the No. 9 spot reserved for Eisenkot. Eisenkot will also receive the 16th and 18th spots on the list, according to Channel 12.
This means that a likely version of the new list would be: Gantz, Sa’ar, Eisenkot, Blue and White representative, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, Blue and White, Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Blue and White, Kahana, Blue and White, Sharren Haskel, Blue and White and Deputy Education Minister Meir Yizhak-Halevi.
How does Matan Kahana fit in?
Kahana’s addition will make it harder if the party eventually wishes to make an alliance with a haredi party. The haredi parties are furious with Kahana over his kashrut and conversion reforms that he implemented as Religious Affairs Minister. The kashrut reform broke the haredi monopoly over issuing kashrut certificates, and the conversion reform broadened the authority of municipal rabbis to conduct conversions over that of the Chief Rabbinate.
Indeed, United Torah Judaism chairman MK Moshe Gafni called the addition of Kahana a “grave mistake,” according to Walla News.
Sa’ar praised both additions on Twitter earlier on Sunday.
“I first met Gadi Eisenkot – as a government secretary in [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon’s first government – when he served as military secretary to the prime minister, during the 2nd Intifada,” Sa’ar wrote. “Gadi is a man of values, serious, honest, statesmanlike and Zionist through and through, committed to Israel’s security and Israeli society. A qualitative addition of power to the political system and the statesmanlike camp.”
"Gadi is a man of values, serious, honest, statesmanlike and Zionist through and through, committed to Israel's security and Israeli society. A qualitative addition of power to the political system and the statesmanlike camp."Gidon Sa'ar
Regarding Kahana, Sa’ar wrote that he “is a moral and courageous public figure, who represents Judaism in the spirit of Beit Hillel. His natural place is in the statesmanlike camp. Welcome, Matan!”
Kahana himself wrote on Twitter:
“Integration into the National Unity Party list.... is not based on persona. I am a servant of the public and of a way of life. This mission has accompanied me for over 30 years.
“The National Unity Party will also be home to thousands of members of the national-religious public, those who believe that the Jewish character of the State of Israel needs to be strengthened through broad consensus,” Kahana wrote.
In response, the Likud said:
“Gadi Eisenkot joined a party that cannot form a government, boycotts half the people and will lead us to a sixth election. Only the Likud can establish a stable national government that will prevent a sixth election and return Israel to stability.”
How did the Right respond?
Politicians on the Right accused the new party of being leftist, while politicians from the Left claimed the opposite.
Zionist Spirit chairwoman Ayelet Shaked wrote:
“I wish the best of luck to my friend Matan Kahana on his new path and Gadi Eisenkot for joining politics. There is no doubt that the statesmanlike Left camp is good news for all left-wing voters. We will make sure that in any government that is formed, they will not be able to promote the vision they share with Gantz for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Things have become clearer, and the people of the statesmanlike Right have one home: the Zionist Spirit.”
Meretz MK and faction CEO Michal Rozin, however, wrote:
“Congratulations to another center-right party that was born this morning. Gantz, Sa’ar, Elkin and Eisenkot are another alternative based on right-wing ideology. A moral Left that fights for equality and against the occupation and annexation can only be found in Meretz.”