Benny Gantz betrayed no one

MIDDLE ISRAEL: Somebody had to cut the Gordian knot, and how good it is that somebody did

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz  (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
Judas, Delilah, Benedict Arnold and any other emblem of disloyalty, betrayal and treason came to mind this week as a battery of pundits, activists and politicians unleashed their vitriol at Benny Gantz for his decision to create a coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu.
“An embarrassing surrender,” wailed Tel Aviv University’s Chuck Freilich. “Gantz put an end to the hope for a change of government,” and worse, “he hurt the basic values of ‘follow me,’ personal example, and ‘leave no wounded behind’ on which we were raised.”
“Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi are betraying most of their followers,” charged Ram Fruman, chairman of the Secular Forum. Haaretz commentator Uri Misgav went a step further, claiming Gantz waged “a suicide attack on Israeli democracy.”
Conducting the defamation choir was Yair Lapid with his scornful chide that his estranged ally “crawled to Netanyahu” and “shouldn’t sell us [the fable] that he did this for Israel’s good.”
Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz concurred. Gantz, he observed, “morphed into a collaborator of the defendant from Balfour Street.”
Well, these are all libels. In fact, Gantz’s move was imperative, patriotic, wise and brave.
FIRST, unlike Fruman’s claim, most of Gantz’s followers actually do support his move, as a Channel 12 poll made plain, indicating that a decisive 56% of Blue and White voters back their candidate’s move. Gantz therefore betrayed no one. In joining the majority a leader doesn’t betray the minority; he overrules it.
Second, the “attack on democracy” argument suggests that Netanyahu’s war on the judiciary will now continue uninterrupted. It won’t.
Sure, Netanyahu might still spew venom at the prosecution and courts, but he will no longer have the Justice Ministry to kick around. A Blue and White minister will replace Amir Ohana and put an end to his shticks and plots. Netanyahu’s trial will unfold as planned, and his verdict will be delivered like any other defendant’s. There is no need, and also no license, for politicians to wear his judges’ robes.
Third, unlike Lapid’s claim, Gantz sure did make his move for the good of the country. In fact, one is at a loss to understand how anyone could have acted otherwise in these days of awe.
With airports shuttered, schools locked, theaters idle, stadiums deserted, stocks plummeting, a million Israelis unemployed, and the streets of Tel Aviv, New York, London and Paris emptied – these people actually thought our routine political boxing should continue unabated?
From any viewpoint – technically, socially, historically and morally – this was madness.
Technically, the narrow government that these people craved could not be assembled in the first place, and at any rate would not have lasted. Such were the numbers following Lapid’s rejection last fall of President Reuven Rivlin’s proposed Gantz-Netanyahu deal, which would have prevented the election in which Blue and White lost precious ground, and would also have made Gantz prime minister by now.
Socially, the narrow government would have alienated more than two million voters representing nearly half the population, and this at a time when so many of these people are suddenly jobless, and while scrambling to feed their families are also shielding them from plague.
Historically, keeping Israeli society rifted at such a testing time would have picked up from where our forefathers left off when they fought each other in Jerusalem’s streets while Rome’s legions were approaching its walls.
Fortunately, Israeli society parted with that Jewish legacy. Our political way is to quarrel – loudly, rudely, and mercilessly – until emergency looms.
When we feel collectively threatened, we set everything aside and fight together. It’s the Israeli way. That is what we did in the face of siege in 1967, that is what we did in the face of economic mayhem in 1984, and that is what we did in the face of the suicides’ terrorism in 2001.
Morally, dealing at such a moment with anything other than the war on the plague and the political harmony it demands meant ignoring the public’s feelings and will.
Yes, Gantz’s detractors knew there is a big crisis out there, and they knew the people wanted a breakthrough, but they didn’t fully appreciate their pain, particularly that of the working classes, whose votes they never expected, and whose fears they didn’t fully imagine, respect or share.
Gantz did.
STARING AT a perfect storm combining a biblical-scale pandemic with an epic economic crisis overcast by political stalemate and the prospect of a fourth election within hardly a year – Gantz decided to cut the Gordian knot. Somebody had to, and how good it is that somebody did.
It could have been someone else. It could have been Netanyahu, who could have relinquished the Likud’s leadership until his trial ends, and it could have been Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, who could have accepted Netanyahu’s offer to join an emergency government and jointly defeat the plague.
Alas, Netanyahu chose judicial confrontation, and there was no retrieving him from that slippery slope, while Lapid and Ya’alon chose personal enmity, and there was no retrieving them from that dark cave.
That, in fact, is the difference between the Lapid-Ya’alon duo and the Ashkenazi-Gantz pair. Lapid and Ya’alon were each hurt by Netanyahu, personally and directly, the former when he was fired as finance minister in 2014, the latter when he was removed as defense minister in 2016.
Netanyahu’s conduct, in both cases, was indeed despicable, and anyone other than Jesus would have hated him for that kind of treatment. It’s natural. That is what Solomon meant when he said there is a time to hate.
Yet this is no time to hate. Now is a time to heal. Gantz’s slanderers didn’t get this. Just like they didn’t get that the political virgin who they thought would be their handsome face and obedient puppet – proved to possess his own heart, mind, nerves and guts.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.