Benny Gantz: A political eulogy

MIDDLE ISRAEL: The breakup of Gantz's already halved faction was a fitting finale for a second career that should never have been launched.

Benny Gantz in the Defense Ministry (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benny Gantz in the Defense Ministry
Prodded by fellow Tories to resign following his electoral defeat, Winston Churchill replied to their leader, his wartime ambassador to Washington, Lord Halifax: “My dear Edward, you can tell your colleagues that one of the unalterable rules of my life is never to leave the pub until closing time.”
Benny Gantz followed that rule to the letter, failing to leave even after the last customer had gone home and the bartender washed the last mug. This week, however, the pub finally closed and the man who nearly became prime minister now finds himself alone on the empty sidewalk, his plans undone, his friends gone, and his luck spent.
Now, after calculating his achievements, his failures, and his failures’ causes, it is time – even according to Churchill’s dictum – for Benny Gantz to retire.
Gantz’s first achievement was the speed of his flight to the top. No prime-ministerial contender ever rose here that fast and not one of them was nearly as inexperienced.
Never mind David Ben-Gurion, who had led the Zionist movement for 17 years before becoming prime minister, or Menachem Begin, who had been leader of the opposition for nearly three decades, and also a minister in two cabinets.
Think of Ehud Barak, who was Yitzhak Rabin’s interior minister and Shimon Peres’s foreign minister and also leader of the opposition, or Bibi Netanyahu, who had not been a minister when he became prime minister, but had been a lawmaker for eight years as well as an ambassador, deputy minister, and leader of the opposition,
Gantz, by contrast, had not one day of political office, not even as a city councilman, when he ran against Netanyahu in 2019, winning as many seats – 35 – as the sitting prime minister. In the following election, he won one seat more than Netanyahu.
The rapidity of this ascent, then, was Gantz’s one accomplishment. The other was his decision to join a broad government in order to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It was a brave decision, one which helped Israel defeat the plague, and upheld the Israeli tradition of fighting acute national crises through broad governments. Alas, that is also where Gantz’s political achievements end.
The failures that undid the general’s second career came in three installments: the pact with Netanyahu, the tragedy that preceded it, and the farce in which it ended.
THE TRAGEDY came the day Gantz broke with his allies Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon. Yes, in terms of the decision which caused that rift he was right and they were wrong. However, the failure to keep that federation intact was his. They were his teammates, and with them gone he was like Samson after Delilah cut his hair.
That happened at dusk. By dawn, Gantz was bamboozled by Netanyahu, who made him step into a honeypot, à la Winnie the Pooh. The parity formula was a political nonstarter that only a political novice could accept. There was no way that a forum of so many ministers would enjoy the public’s respect, and there was no way that Gantz would actually matter in that cyclopean structure.
Gantz should also have known that the rotation deal was a nonstarter. Back when it was struck, the public’s task was to back it. Gantz’s task, however, was to produce a deal that would work. The deal’s unworkability may not have been Gantz’s doing, but, like his party’s breakup, it was his fault.
And after the tragedy of the government’s birth came the farce that animated its life each day.
The failure to pass a budget; the failure to convene the ministerial legislation committee; Netanyahu’s failure to inform Gantz about peace deals; and the foot-dragging in appointing a state attorney and chief of police – all made Gantz look like a fool.
There was logic in Gantz’s containment of some of these humiliations. Gantz was waiting for next November when he was to land in the prime minister’s seat. However, once he voted on December 2 to disband the Knesset, Gantz should never have looked back.
Gantz, alas, did look back, and entered talks with Netanyahu about a possible resuscitation of their government, only to immediately fall into yet another trap, as the pair reportedly negotiated the dilution of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn’s powers.
Gantz thus betrayed both a colleague and a cause, the cause being the defense of the judiciary, which Blue and White vowed, and Nissenkorn led. Gantz’s failure to predict this double betrayal’s outcome – the breakup of his already halved faction – was a fitting finale of a political career that should never have been launched.
THE MOST unusual political flight ever seen here skyrocketed for the same reason it crashed: its pilot was a political virgin.
Then again, Benny Gantz lacked not only political experience, but also political gift. The tall stature, blue eyes, moral cleanliness and personal affability that he brought could not compensate for his lack of vision, inspiration, ideas, plans, eloquence, and negotiating skills. That is why his flight nosedived, and that is why his role in our history is coming to its end so soon after it began.
This is no reason to forget this flight’s remarkable takeoff and its unique fuel. It took off like a missile, and it was fueled by public revulsion with an indicted prime minister who besmirched the Jewish state’s courts, libeled its cops, defamed its press and incited its mobs.
That is why there was here such a quest for a leader who would combine the skills that Gantz proved to lack with the humility that Netanyahu never possessed.
Emerging from his jet’s wreck, Gantz will now limp into the sunset and vanish. Netanyahu has survived Benny Gantz’s sortie. So did the quest that fueled it.
The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.