50 Influential Jews: Opposition Leaders - No. 14

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid want to lead Israel again. Will they succeed?

 Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid and National Unity head MK Benny Gantz. (photo credit: Courtesy, MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid and National Unity head MK Benny Gantz.
(photo credit: Courtesy, MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

According to most recent polls, if an election were held today, MK Benny Gantz and his National Unity Party would earn the top seats, giving Gantz a chance to become Israel’s prime minister.

Gantz was raised on an agricultural moshav in the South and built a formidable military career, culminating his tenure as Israel’s top general for nearly five years. This much is clear from his stern, measured opposition to the government, drawing on biblical analogy when he can while presenting himself as a middleman between the extremes of Israel’s Right and Left.

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His adaptability has made him popular among the international audience, who view him as a grounded leader with his country always on his mind.

Having been betrayed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past, he hasn’t seemed to scorn the premier altogether, hinting at an openness to join a unity government if the offer came.

Meanwhile, Gantz continues positioning himself as a friend to all, primarily as he seeks to take a central role in the debates over the new Conscription Law. This bill would set allotments for ultra-Orthodox service in the IDF.

Gantz seems content in his current position but eager to take Netanyahu’s seat when the time comes.

Leading the opposition in Israel seems a perfect fit for Yair Lapid. The former prime minister’s short term at the country’s helm helped grow his domestic and international recognition and, in turn, enabled him to lead the charge against the government’s highly contentious judicial reform.

The charismatic Lapid is a product of the sunny streets of Tel Aviv, a journalist-turned-government minister. His clean English has made him a favorite in international forums, and his trips to the United States to visit Jewish groups and hold talks with US officials have been met with fanfare.

His tenure as opposition leader puts him head-to-head with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition in a time that has seen the country locked in a heated deadlock over its future. Lapid has emerged as a “bad cop” in the opposition camp. The fiery former actor and boxer has led an all-out blitz against the government, attacking it at every turn in the streets and on television.

While a national unity government has been floated, and even endorsed, by certain party members, Lapid remains determined to lead the battle against the Netanyahu government until he has another chance to beat the prime minister at the polling booth and retake his throne.