Gantz's shortcomings fails to defeat Likud, Netanyahu’s flair superior

Gantz’s lack of charisma and unconvincing message, along with Netanyahu’s campaigning talents and effort to undermine trust in law enforcement agencies caused the party's defeat.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The results of the election came as a shocking blow to Blue and White, which once having led the polls by a margin of two or three seats, suffered the ignominy of very nearly conceding an outright majority to the right-wing.
How did it come to pass that the biggest party, led by men of unimpeachable security credentials, facing a man shortly to go on trial for corruption, managed to lose the election?
In addressing Blue and White’s failings first, it is glaringly obvious that its leader, MK Benny Gantz, while a sterling soldier and IDF chief of staff, lacks the charisma, dynamism and spellbinding magic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His speeches and media interviews often appeared stiff and staid, he never generated much enthusiasm for himself or his party, and he ultimately failed to inspire the public to whom he was trying to appeal.
Gantz often appeared awkward, not used to and uncomfortable with the limelight, and unable to connect to his audience.
In Blue and White’s big event for the Anglo community, which featured Gantz on a stage with his No. 2, Yair Lapid, the latter inadvertently upstaged his leader with his easy charm and relaxed demeanor.
When Gantz attempted a light joke or jest, most of the time it fell flat, whereas Lapid on several occasions was able to generate a good-hearted chuckle out of the audience.
Although Lapid lacks Gantz’s security gravitas and divides opinion far more than the Blue and White leader, the contrast that night demonstrated Gantz’s broader problem of simply not having the electoral magnetism of a star politician.
In contemporary politics, this is a vital quality, as Boris Johnson, Emanuel Macron, Donald Trump and Netanyahu all demonstrate.
IN TERMS of its political message, too often Blue and White focused on “Anyone but Bibi” without setting out a real vision for the country.
Yes, Blue and White formulated an actual party manifesto with promises on the health system, economy, security and religion and state, as well as other key issues the country faces.
But the overwhelming message of the campaign was that Netanyahu was not fit to lead the country due to the criminal indictments against him, and that was apparently not enough to get the center-left voters out to the polling booths for a third time.
Part of the problem was that Blue and White is such a disparate party, combining some strongly left-wing elements from its Yesh Atid faction, centrists from its Gantz-led Israel Resilience faction and strongly right-wing figures from its Telem faction.
What united Yesh Atid’s strongly left-wing Yael German with Telem’s decisively right-wing leader Moshe Ya’alon was not a shared vision on, for example, how to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians but merely an antipathy for Netanyahu.
This was apparently not enough to inspire the diverse components of Blue and White’s electorate to come out and vote for it again, with each different segment of voters perhaps believing that the compromises required of it to vote for the hodgepodge of ill-suited ideas, political philosophies and personalities was too great.
That Blue and White is a recent amalgamation of three parties without a traditional, committed and loyal voter base – and without deep roots in any particular segment of society – was another key disadvantage in its electoral war with the Likud, which enjoys staunch and devoted support from its key working-class Mizrahi constituency in the country’s geographical periphery.
BUT BLUE and White was also facing a formidable electioneer in Netanyahu, who was literally fighting for his political life, not to mention battling to ward off the threat to his personal liberty posed by his upcoming corruption trial.
Although those charges are extremely grave, Netanyahu had long laid the groundwork for overcoming them in the realm of public opinion if not within the four walls of the Jerusalem District Court, by throwing mud at every component of the law enforcement system.
Having sought to undermine public trust over the past three years in the police, the state attorney’s office and the attorney-general by alleging a conspiracy between these institutions and officials, along with a more amorphous left-wing cabal of elites, Netanyahu was able to severely dent Blue and White’s election trump card: that the prime minister was unfit for office.
Likud’s hard-core voters bought into this narrative, and the result was the increased voter turnout on Monday in the party’s stronghold cities, of citizens who see Netanyahu’s war against the establishment as a just crusade given the establishment’s supposed war against them.
The fact that Gantz got hit by allegations of corruption himself – when the police announced at the end of February that the company he once chaired, Fifth Dimension, was under investigation for possible corrupt practices – was a big blow to the candidate preaching ethical purity, even if Gantz himself is not a suspect in the investigation.
Indeed, it was following this development that the polls started to turn in Likud’s favor.
The final component of Netanyahu’s victory was the incredible campaign he waged, in which he feverishly traveled the length and breadth of the country, glad-handed his supporters and motivated them to come to the polling stations in their droves.
Netanyahu pounded away at his core message, that Likud’s constituents must help him fight back against the left-wing elites trying to do him and them down, and that Blue and White was a band of leftists who would form a government with the Arab parties and undermine the country’s security.
In addition, he appealed to every possible electoral constituency and subsector that he could to scrape another few thousand votes.
Netanyahu promised the Ethiopian-Israeli community to bring members of the Falash Mura community still in Ethiopia to Israel, pledged to wipe away the criminal records of marijuana offenders and postponed reforms to the taxi industry to stop taxi drivers from abandoning the Likud.
Ultimately it was a combination of Gantz’s failings, together with Netanyahu’s dark political arts and his election campaign tour de force that put him back in the driver’s seat of the country’s most unpredictable, divisive and rancorous election season ever.