Blue and White's mission to oust Netanyahu failing to draw soft-right vote

Blue and White remains dedicated to ousting Netanyahu, but hasn’t succeeded in convincing its target audience on the soft Right.

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, looks on as he gives a statement to the media in Ramat Gan, Israel March 1, 2020 (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, looks on as he gives a statement to the media in Ramat Gan, Israel March 1, 2020
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Twelve months, untold millions of shekels spent on three election campaigns, hundreds of miles traveled criss-crossing the country, and still the Blue and White Party remains largely in the same position they were at the outset.
The party of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid fought Likud to a standstill in the first election in April when both parties got the same number of seats and a right-wing government was stymied by Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party.
In September, Blue and White eked out a one-seat victory over the Likud but was nevertheless unable to form a government.
And with the polling stations poised to open in less than 24 hours, Gantz’s party is seemingly no closer to fulfilling its overarching mission: ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
If anything, the pendulum has swung slightly against Blue and White, with several polls last week giving the Likud an advantage following a bad week of news for Gantz.
What has happened?
At the beginning of the campaign, Blue and White struck out to be decidedly right-wing, with Benny Gantz pledging to annex the Jordan Valley in a Bibi-esque election pledge.
And for almost the entire campaign, Blue and White has sought to shave away some moderate right-wing and religious votes from the right-wing bloc, by positioning itself as uncompromising on security and maximalist on any accommodation with the Palestinians.
At the same time, the party has kept hammering away at its core message, that Netanyahu is corrupt, divisive, and because he is scheduled to go on trial two weeks after the election, he cannot lead the country any longer.
The idea was that right-wing voters who might have fallen out of love with Netanyahu after so long in office could serve as the one possible swing-constituency that might switch sides and decide the political stalemate in Blue and White’s favor.
And while Blue and White did enjoy a polling lead over the Likud of some two or three seats until late February, whether it would have been convincing enough to make a difference in the political deadlock is doubtful.
Several missteps in the party’s efforts to court more liberal-minded religious-Zionist voters, including an attack against the sector’s hardline conservative community and its leadership, may have also cut off that avenue for increasing its share of the vote.
Gantz and Blue and White have also focused much of their energy on the message of removing Netanyahu, rather than a more hopeful, inspired vision for the future.
That began to change Saturday night at the final Blue and White rally where “hope” became the watchword of the evening, but it may now be too late to inspire a new vision in the electorate at this late stage.
But the most serious blow to Blue and White came in late February, when the acting state attorney announced that the police was opening a criminal investigation into The Fifth Dimension, a company that Gantz had chaired before it went bankrupt.
Even though Gantz is not a suspect in the investigation, the damage to Blue and White’s squeaky clean image was done and the party tumbled in the polls, losing four seats in one week.
It was perhaps those very moderate right-wing voters who had second thoughts on voting for Gantz, since if he himself was in trouble with the law, what advantage did he have over Netanyahu?
Although it has subsequently recovered somewhat and looked to have regained parity, or close to it, in the final polls of the campaign, Blue and White’s dream of defeating Likud by a margin of three or four seats now seems unlikely to gain greater legitimacy in its calls for Netanyahu to stand aside, now looks unlikely.
Gantz has insisted time and again he will not sit in government under Netanyahu because he will imminently be standing trial, and it is unlikely in the extreme that he will break that promise to his voters.
Having ruled out bringing in the Joint List of Arab parties into a government, and having ruled out forming a minority government with the active support of the Arab parties, Gantz’s path to the premiership looks slim.
He has been assailed by questions as to whether Blue and White will form a minority government by having the Joint List abstain in the Knesset vote to establish a coalition, and has said somewhat opaquely that he will “not rely” on the Arab parties to do so.
But even if he would want to try such a maneuver, Blue and White, Meretz-Labor-Gesher and Yisrael Beytenu would need to have more seats than the right-wing bloc, a scenario for which the polls give scant chance.
Barring defections from the Likud, which also appears unlikely, or some kind of intervention from the president, which would be of doubtful utility, it seems unclear how Blue and White will be able to form a government this time round, again.