Gantz comes of age as a politician by countering Netanyahu's manipulation

MIDDLE ISRAEL: Humility like Gantz’s is what Israel needs as the Netanyahu era draws to a close.

Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz is seen in thoughtful mode at a Blue and White faction meeting in the Knesset. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz is seen in thoughtful mode at a Blue and White faction meeting in the Knesset.
He did it again.
After having proven to his former running mates that they underestimated him, Benny Gantz this week did the same thing to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, in typical cynicism, planted a trap into which the political novice he faces was supposed to march head-on. Having inserted into their coalition contract a clause about passing by August 25 a two-year budget, Netanyahu reneged on his signed commitment and demanded a short-term budget.
The absurdity of Netanyahu’s manipulation became glaring when he claimed a two-year budget would entail cutbacks and require “that the numbers add up,” as if a short-term budget is a license to spend unconsciously, and a long-term budget bans any spending.
Sadly, Netanyahu wanted a short-term budget not for economic, but for political reasons, although which reason exactly is not fully clear. Was it in order to see Blue and White capitulate, and thus humiliate it, or was it supposed to trigger a fourth election within less than two years?
One cannot escape the suspicion that the idea was to force on this already nerve-racked society yet another political cockfight, in the hope that its result would allow Netanyahu to reshape the judiciary and derail the legal process he faces.
This theory, while logical, will doubtfully ever be proven. Netanyahu must have avoided stating it anywhere. What does not need proving, because it was done in broad daylight, is the attempt to violate an agreement with its ink still fresh and with no viable reason.
What are ordinary citizens supposed to think when their own leader dishonors the most basic norms of decency and fair play? Why should, say, a landlord now not tell a tenant, “Yes, our contract says 2,000, but I now want 2,500. The prime minister also backtracked from his signed a contract, and the numbers there were bigger.”
The good news is that Gantz has just punctured Netanyahu’s overarching assumption, namely, that his colleagues, his rivals, his partners and the entire citizenry are all his stooges, and that he can therefore do whatever the hell he wants.
GANTZ’S ORIGINAL number two, Yair Lapid, assumed that he, being more experienced and telegenic, would call the shots, while the shy and ineloquent Gantz would be their effort’s handsome wrapping.
This was indeed the de facto arrangement until the pair was challenged by the ominous confluence of massive pandemic, economic mayhem and political impasse that added up to a perfect storm.
At that point Gantz surprised all by displaying the kind of political will and historic instinct most people thought he lacked. That is how he ended up bidding farewell to partners whose political judgment was obstructed by their personal histories with Netanyahu.
This week Gantz did the same thing to Netanyahu. By refusing to change the budget clause, and also the next state attorney’s appointment process – which Netanyahu tried to snatch from Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White – Gantz outsmarted Netanyahu, and forced him to retreat.
Like an overconfident judoka, Netanyahu thought he would floor Gantz with an elegant belt drop. The assumption that his rival was in no position to flip Netanyahu was valid, but the assumption that Gantz could be endlessly pushed around was wrong. The man’s two feet – the protection of justice and governance – proved firmly planted in the ground.
IN THEIR personalities, Netanyahu and Gantz are almost perfect inversions.
Netanyahu has spent decades craving and gulping publicity, limelight and fame. Gantz has shunned them, and still seems uncomfortable with cameras, microphones and words. Now 61, he was nearly 60 when he only began learning political basics that Netanyahu learned in his 20s.
Like the biblical Saul, the bashful cowboy who was crowned because he was brave, modest and “a head taller than any of the people,” the 6’3” Gantz is also a warrior raised among bulls and cows, in his case those of dairy farmer Nahum Gantz, who believed in what now is inscribed on his tombstone in Moshav Kfar Ahim: “Don’t be drawn by gold’s glitter / Look to the soil / For it stores blessing and happiness.”
This is not to say that Gantz would make a perfect leader, or indeed that he should be Israel’s next prime minister. The bravery, height and humility of his biblical analogue – the future king who could not be found because he was “hiding among the baggage” – were at best insufficient, at worst liabilities, as the Talmud suggested in saying that Saul lost his kingship because he was too modest (Tractate Yoma 22b).
Even so, right now humility like Gantz’s is what Israel needs as the Netanyahu era draws to a close. Netanyahu’s kind of soloist leadership may be suitable for Russia. It isn’t for us.
We need a leader who, rather than besmirch the judiciary, will salute it, the way David Ben-Gurion did when he said in April 1949, after the High Court of Justice first annulled a government decision (the dismissal of several policemen suspected of taking bribes during the British Mandate): “The question of whether or not to respect the ruling doesn’t even arise.”
Israel needs a leader who, like Levi Eshkol during the Six Day War, like Shimon Peres when he defeated hyperinflation, and like Menachem Begin when he made peace with Egypt, will work in partnership with allies, colleagues and even rivals, rather than keep them in the dark, the way Netanyahu just did to Gantz while negotiating with the United Arab Emirates.
After more than a decade of bluster, egomania and narcissism, Israel craves a leader who will make less of himself and more of us, one who will scorn luxury and appreciate simplicity, one who will talk less bravado and more appeasement, a leader who instead of repeatedly telling us “I” will say “we.”
Amotz Asa-El’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly) Yediot Books, 2019, is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.