Why does Benny Gantz keep undergoing political transformations? - opinion

Ever since Benny Gantz entered politics in 2018, his party has undergone six transformations to his parties with a variety of partners.

 THE CHIEFS of staff: Defense Minister Benny Gantz with his new running mate, Gadi Eisenkot. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
THE CHIEFS of staff: Defense Minister Benny Gantz with his new running mate, Gadi Eisenkot.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

At the end of December 2018, Benny Gantz entered politics. A former IDF chief of staff, he was long said to be considering a political run and had held talks with a variety of consultants and politicians debating the right path forward. 

On December 27, 2018, he registered his new party, calling it Hosen L’Israel, which in English was named the Israel Resilience Party. The colors chosen for the campaign posters matched the story Gantz’s strategists were trying to tell – it was green, black and came with a Star of David in the middle. This was about an army officer coming to once again save the country. 

Within a few weeks, the party morphed. Moshe Ya’alon, another former chief of staff, merged his party, Telem, with Gantz. The new name: Israel Resilience-Telem. 

Two months later was the next transformation. Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, had decided to merge with Gantz. The new party was called Blue and White and the campaign colors changed accordingly. 

The large version of Blue and White lasted for just over a year until Gantz decided to break away and enter into a government with Benjamin Netanyahu under the pretext that it was needed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Gantz kept the name Blue and White and Lapid went back to Yesh Atid. That was Gantz’s fourth political manifestation.

 JUSTICE MINISTER and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar and Defense Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz announce the merger of their parties ahead of the upcoming election, in Ramat Gan, earlier this week. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) JUSTICE MINISTER and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar and Defense Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz announce the merger of their parties ahead of the upcoming election, in Ramat Gan, earlier this week. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

This smaller Blue and White lasted until a few weeks ago when Gantz announced a new merger, this time with New Hope, the right-wing party led by Gideon Sa’ar. The name of that new party wasn’t that original. The two decided to call it: Blue and White – New Hope. 

But that new party didn’t last long. On Sunday, Gantz morphed again with the announcement that former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot was joining him and Sa’ar. 

The new party is called Hamachane Hamamlachti, which in English is best translated as the “Statesmanship Camp,” even if Gantz wants to call it the National Unity Party, which sounds awfully similar to the National Union Party, a far-right movement that advocated the transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank. 

The colors – blue and white – stayed the same and the Star of David also survived the transformation. It just moved from the middle of the word Hosen to be a period after the name Hamachane Hamamlachti.

Think about this for a moment: Gantz has been in politics for just three and a half years and has already undergone six party transformations. 

The constant changes are indicative of a problem that Gantz faces when trying to woo voters – he doesn’t really have a story to tell. It is for that reason, for example, that he worked so hard to recruit former chief of staff Eisenkot even though he already ran a party with three chiefs of staff that did not end well. 

Gantz's policies are not his own

It reminded me of a story I heard recently from a former diplomat about a head of state who visited Israel in January 2020 to participate in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Forum. While here, the head of state met with Netanyahu, who was then prime minister, but also booked a meeting with Gantz, who had already run in two consecutive elections.

The two met for dinner, during which the foreign leader tried to understand what Gantz stood for. “What do you think about Iran,” the head of state asked the aspiring Israeli politician. 

“The government is doing a good job,” Gantz said. 

“And what do you think about the economy,” the foreign leader asked.

“The government’s policies are sound,” Gantz again replied. 

This went on for a few more questions, until at one point, the foreign leader asked Gantz why he was bothering to run if all his policies seemed just the same as Netanyahu.

And this explains why Gantz is constantly rebranding his party. When there is nothing in policy that you can say to distinguish yourself, you have no choice but to resort to superficial change that hides the lack of substantive change.

And that is the true problem when it comes to these elections. Even after four votes in the last three and a half years, the parties are still incapable of having a serious conversation about policy, even if that is what Israelis really need.

Just look at the headlines this past week. Housing prices are at a 12-year record high; inflation is over 5%; an attack tunnel was found and neutralized along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip; and road accidents are leading to an intolerable number of victims.  Is anyone rolling out a transportation plan for how to reduce car accidents or traffic jams? Has anyone put out a serious economic plan that will lower the cost of housing? Was there a politician who bothered to explain a strategy for how to prevent – or at least try to – the next Gaza operation? And what about religion and state? Sadly it seems that those issues don’t even exist anymore especially when all the parties are trying to kiss up to the haredim so they’ll side with them when the November election again ends in a stalemate. 

Parties today don’t even bother putting out a platform. The people don’t demand it (they should) and the parties don’t feel a need to work on it (they should too). Instead, we talk about the same questions of identity – who will this party sit with and who will this party not sit with.

At the press conference that Eisenkot held with Gantz this week, it was as if that was the most important issue. The fact that the public knows nothing about the former chief of staff’s opinions on the economy or the education system meant nothing. All journalists wanted to know was what he thinks about Bibi. 

Why won't this change?

And let’s be honest – this will not change. It won’t change for three reasons: The first is that the politicians don’t want it to – they prefer a race that doesn’t force them to come up with real policies and take a stand on real issues. It is easier to avoid contentious issues and focus on the superficial. 

The second reason is because the people don’t demand policy. No one is out on the street demanding that politicians come up with a set list of positions. People are sleepwalking through this campaign just like they did through the four before. It is hard to blame them. When the politicians don’t change and the people don’t change, why should we expect a different result than what we have seen until now?

And the third reason is the media. We too are to blame. We don’t ask the real questions of politicians and remain focused on who will sit with whom and what they will do with Bibi, who is on trial? By not asking politicians the tough questions that matter, we are neglecting our role. 

Can this change? Of course it can, but for that to happen people have to want something different. 

If they don’t demand change they can be sure of one thing – by the next election, Benny Gantz will already be running at the head of a different party.

***

In May, after the round of terror attacks that cost the lives of 19 Israelis, the IDF understood that it had to do something and decided to deploy a bunch of infantry battalions with their thousands of soldiers along what is referred to as the “seamline” between Israel and the West Bank – the path of the artificial border along which the security barrier runs. 

The idea was simple – thousands of Palestinians illegally crossed the seamline on a daily basis in search for work and some of them could be terrorists. Soldiers were placed near holes in the barrier or in places where there is no fence or wall and told to sit and guard. 

The soldiers have been there ever since. Sometimes they stand guard for 10 hours straight and sometimes for 12 hours. That is 12 hours during which they stare at a hole in a fence or just at a patch of bushes. 

Anyone who has served in the IDF, knows that 10 or 12 hours on guard duty – day after day – is not normal. It takes a toll on you; it is boring; and it is impossible not to fall asleep. Sometimes you sleep and your friend stays up; sometimes he sleeps and you stay up; and sometimes both of you fall asleep.

The circumstances of what happened on Monday night when St.-Sgt. Natan Fitousi was shot and killed by a fellow soldier have yet to be determined. There are different versions of what happened and eventually the Military Police will hopefully uncover the truth. 

One thing is for certain – this situation where soldiers like Fitousi and his friend who killed him – are sitting for 12 hours staring at a fence is not normal and needs to come to an end. 

Fitousi and his friend were stationed outside of the West Bank city of Tulkarm, near where the security barrier runs. Their “position” consisted of a table for a water tank, two flimsy white plastic chairs and a makeshift shade over their heads, considered a luxury by some of the other soldiers who sit unprotected under the blazing sun. 

How this makes sense is puzzling. The IDF has advanced technology – drones, radars and more. Can’t it find a way to utilize that technology instead of paralyzing soldiers for months on end to sit next to a fence? Is that what these young men enlisted for? Is this why they are needed? 

Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi needs to provide answers to these questions, since every day that passes presents the opportunity for more tragedies. It is time that the IDF do better. It can.