Gantz, don’t surrender your principles to Bibi

THE IDEA that Netanyahu and Gantz would sit down and shake hands just weeks after vicious attacks by members of Likud was beyond the imagination.

BENNY GANTZ meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem earlier this week.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
BENNY GANTZ meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem earlier this week.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Benny Gantz and his friends in Blue and White, including those who were his friends, ran during three elections with their main message being that they would not cooperate with Benjamin Netanyahu.
The first manifestations of this message, in the early stage before the April 2019 elections, were fierce but reserved, almost as if they were classified. It is very likely that the past shared by Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon as people who served under Netanyahu, in different capacities and mostly in the IDF, made them hesitate. Something from the respect an army man has to the civilian leader remained during the early stages of this confrontation.
Yet, as time marched on, the tone changed with it. Netanyahu and the bot army operated by him and his family members moved on the offensive. I am familiar with this style.
It is based on undercover detective work done by professionals who seek to invent false stories that would cause a great deal of damage to the public image of the person they are investigating, and in many cases, pushes him into a corner and a defensive stand that would reduce the attacks this person is now able to launch against Netanyahu.
This operational mode, mafia-like by nature, is typical of Netanyahu, his son, and their gang of yes-men. Truth, facts and sources are all not important and they never were. In the age of fake news, it is possible to spread lies, build stories, and create false documentation that seems real and then spread them far and wide.
The Netanyahu gang is skilled in this and was often able to hit the most sensitive parts of political rivals who appeared to be dangerous to Netanyahu. Gantz was the main target, as were Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid, who was not spared any slurs when spoken about by Netanyahu’s people.
As the election campaigns progressed, the mutual condemnations became fiercer. Near the end of the third election, Gantz and his friends started saying things that even reporters and commentators who were not supporters of Netanyahu went out of their way to point out as being extreme.
I think that dubbing Netanyahu the same as Turkish President Recep Erdogan was a special moment. In Israel, Erdogan became a symbol of personal corruption, of a rotten administration and of someone who hates Israel.
Whether or not this impression was precise or an exaggeration, naming Netanyahu as the Israeli Erdogan was a peak in the personal clash between Blue and White and the gang from Balfour Street.
Gantz and his friends did not let up. Everything about Netanyahu was associated with corruption, bribe-taking, a lack of virtue, a danger to the rule of law, an assault on the courts and the state prosecutor, and an attempt to publicly end the career of the attorney-general.
“From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness, only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil” (Isaiah 1:6).
THE IDEA that Netanyahu and Gantz would sit down and shake hands – or bump elbows as we do today to express personal affection – just weeks after the media were full of such strong language and vicious attacks by members of Likud was beyond the imagination. They say that in politics, anything is possible; that the truth of yesterday becomes the lie of tomorrow, and that the plan for tomorrow becomes a draft that needs to be burned today.
According to this line of thinking, everything that happens is what suits the personal interests of those who have an interest. This school of thought claims that politics is a pretense turned into an art form, and one can only expect fakeness, lies and deceit. No more and no less. My own views about politics and how it should be done are quite different.
Even today I think that there is no ground to the claims that Benny Gantz is this kind of politician. Gantz, as far as I know him, is a fair-minded man who is working under the impossible constraints imposed by public life, especially in a country so adrift like the State of Israel.
Gantz believed he was doing the right thing for the country while holding on to the principles he spoke about in public from the day he did the brave deed of forming a national movement and announced that he would run for the highest office in this country’s government.
This image crashed in the minds of hundreds of thousands of Blue and White supporters who hoped Gantz would be the one to form a government and remove, as he promised to do, Netanyahu and the gang around him from Balfour Street. They hoped that he would lead an administration that would be balanced, responsible, restrained, respectful, unifying, sensitive to human rights as well as the rights of all Israelis including the country’s Arab citizens.
Gantz then took a sharp turn at a crucial moment and turned the political system upside-down. In no less than the blink of an eye, Gantz faced the public and tried to explain the reasons for this change.
According to him, the coronavirus outbreak created a new reality that shook the foundations of the state. A responsible man must examine reality as it is on a given day and cannot be enslaved to what he said, in honesty and good faith, when a totally different reality existed. 
There were some among Gantz’s supporters who were impressed by his message and the turn he had taken. They saw it as an expression of personal bravery and honesty which sadly is missing in our public life.
To these people, bravery is the ability to stand in front of the public and tell it what it did not expect to hear. They believe that when a person reaches the conclusion that the world has changed, positions can be modified and even a political partnership that seemed impossible only a few days earlier can then be established. 
One should accept Gantz’s message as it was given. There is no point in suggesting the reason he gave was false.
AN EXAMINATION of the situation at the time would give this explanation a high level of reliability, especially to anyone who credits Gantz as an honest man who seeks the well-being of the country and its interest above other things. 
The government was able, in those days, under the “Theater of Panic” that Netanyahu created, to give the impression that we were facing a crisis that threated the state’s very existence.
“The biggest pandemic since the Middle Ages, with one million people infected and tens of thousands of deaths by the end of April,” Netanyahu declared at the time. The population was under lockdown, hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs or were put on leave with no security when if ever they would be able to return. Elderly parents were cut off from their families, children could not visit parents, and the connection with the outside world was reduced to a bare minimum.
Under such circumstances, one can understand – even if not agree – that at that specific point in time, Gantz decided to change his mind. He knew that he did not have enough support to form a government without the Likud’s participation, and that due to the changing reality, he needed to change his political alliances.
As many do, it is possible to agree. It is also possible – like I and many other former Gantz supporters believe – to disagree. It is, however, impossible to rule out that in his heart and soul, Gantz feels he did what was right for the country. He said so, and I believe him. 
Yet, since I believe him, it is my duty to point out that Gantz never said that this unavoidable alliance – forced on him due the reality at the time – means he is also dropping all the other commitments he made to the public through three wasteful and corrupt elections.
Gantz took upon himself an obligation to defend the courts, their independence, and their ability to function free from the threats of the Balfour gang with Amir Ohana, David Amsalem, Yair Netanyahu and the bot gang that continues to slander the judges and threaten them.  
Gantz committed to protect the independence of law enforcement agencies in Israel as well as the attorney-general. 
He committed to change the attitude toward Arab-Israelis and to recognize them as equal citizens. He led a massive protest in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum and invited Joint List leader Ayman Odeh to speak there. 
Gantz announced he would fiercely object to the unilateral annexation of the West Bank in a manner not accepted by the international community, including the US administration. Gantz got a lot of criticism for this comment, which was seen, and rightfully so, as expressing his reservations to Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” since it is clear that there is no possible way to obtain international consensus on Israeli annexation of West Bank land and the Jordan Valley. 
Gantz made it very clear he supports opening negotiations with the Palestinians, and that he would take steps to make that happen.
Gantz committed to work to change the style and manner of public discourse in Israel. He denounced the offensive, bitter and divisive style that pits various groups in this country against one another, and vowed that his government would be totally different and based on respect for one another and those who are different.
TODAY IT is clear to Gantz that no real emergency exists, and that there is no real justification for a so-called “unity emergency government” for any set period of time. He should admit that he got swept up in the drama that Netanyahu created in the midst of the coronavirus.
It is clear that today, as the government is being sworn in at the Knesset under the pretext that it is needed because of the coronavirus, that the plague is actually fading.
I imagine that if Gantz would need to make a decision about cooperating with Netanyahu today, he would have a hard time using the coronavirus as a legitimate reason. The numbers behind the outbreak affirm that Netanyahu created excessive panic that had no foundation.
The expected financial crisis because of these irresponsible and disproportional measures places a heavy burden on the government and the people of this country. This burden might be beyond what we can bear.
It is hard to say today that the coronavirus is a reason to cozy up to with Bibi and the Likud and enter with them into a political partnership. On the other hand, it would have been easy to explain why one should not cooperate with those who destabilized – at the core – Israel’s economy and delicate social fabric.  
Nevertheless, now is not the time to hash out what might have been, what was, and the great shock experienced by many from what seems like an unacceptable and unreasonable surrender. I said I believe Gantz’s reasons, and that I believed the world view he spoke of motivated him to make this dramatic turn. 
Yet I also believed he did not abandon the principles that led him from the beginning to hoist the banner of working to change the administration in this country. 
Now, after the new government has been established, the burden of proof is on Gantz more than ever.
When he took the step of joining Netanyahu; when he agreed to be the replacement of a man in whom, even now, he has little faith; once he leapt into this swamp where people like Amir Ohana, David Bitton, David Amsalem and Yair Netanyahu dictate the norms; when he agreed to form a government with 34 to 36 ministers and 16 vice-ministers, a government he himself described as a government of fraudsters and bribe-takers; when he agreed to all of that, Gantz was left with only one thing to balance the concerns that many feel.
He needs to fight to maintain his principles, to honor his obligations, and to defend the country from those who threaten its stability, values and principles. 
Gantz has the formal power to do so. He has a sufficient number of ministers in government, but most importantly he has a signed deal granting him the power to veto any meaningful decision that will have an impact on our lives here. 
Now all that is left to see is if Gantz also has the courage, the strength, the power and the boldness to follow through. 
What was, was not forgotten; what won’t happen, will not be forgiven.
The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.