Benny Gantz – the responsible adult of Israeli politics

Today, it is arguable beyond any shadow of a doubt that Benny Gantz, who during all three election campaigns declared "Israel above all," really means it.

BENNY GANTZ, head of the Blue and White party. (photo credit: REUTERS)
BENNY GANTZ, head of the Blue and White party.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following his retirement as the 20th IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz was marked as the new promise of the Israeli politics. When he entered the political area and established the Blue and White Party with Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, and subsequently led the new party to great achievements in the last three elections (35 seats in the April 2019 elections and 33 seats in both the September 2019 and March 2020 elections), it became clear that a new spirit was blowing in the political arena in Israel.
However, despite Blue and White's impressive successes at the ballot box - the highest achievement of any center-left party since the 1996 elections - Gantz was unable to form a government at the end of any of the three election campaigns in the past year. In fact, the only viable option was to establish a unity government in which Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz would rotate in the prime minister's post. Yet, the Blue and White leadership continued to adhere to their position and vehemently refused to sit in the government under Netanyahu because of the criminal charges against him.
The March 2020 election results constituted a watershed for Gantz. Although his party won its greatest score of all election campaigns in the past year (Blue and White received 26.6% of the votes in March 2020 compared to 26.1% and 25.9% in April and September 2019, respectively), Gantz had no option to form a government.
After his offers to Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism to join a government led by him were overwhelmingly denied, Gantz endeavored to establish a minority government with Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Meretz that would depend on the support of the Arab Joint List, in spite of all his political promises not to form such a government.
Although 61 Knesset members recommended that he be allowed to establish a government (while Netanyahu won only 58 recommendations), Gantz did not have a majority in the Knesset to form such a government since two members from his party, Yoaz Handel and Zvi Hauser, both of them right-wing politicians, strongly opposed it. Thus, the only viable options left to the Israeli political system were to go to a fourth election or establish a unity government of Likud and Blue and White with a rotating prime ministership.
While it seemed that the Israeli political system was once again unable to overcome the political chaos of the past year, the coronavirus crisis served as the perfect pretext for Blue and White's leadership to establish a political partnership with Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu. However, while Gantz and Ashkenazi realized that the moment was ripe for a forming an emergency unity government that would be able to confront the coronavirus, Lapid and Ya'alon - as well as Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who bore considerable responsibility for Israel going twice to redundant elections in the past six months - strongly rejected joining forces with Netanyahu and the Likud.
THUS, WHILE Gantz and Ashkenazi demonstrated national responsibility and prudent political judgment, Lapid, Ya'alon and Liberman proved that they were politicians guided by only one purpose: trying to bring an end to Netanyahu's political career.
Today, it is arguable beyond any shadow of a doubt that Benny Gantz, who during all three election campaigns declared "Israel above all," really means it. He proved this when he decided that during an emergency, an emergency unity government should be established, even if it is headed by his political rival. Thus, although Gantz reduced his political power in the Knesset following the split of Blue and White (from 33 to 17 Knesset members), he has proven to be a pragmatic politician and responsible leader for whom the Jewish state takes priority over his own political future.
Ultimately, Netanyahu will go to trial. It seems that no one can prevent it, neither politically nor publicly. This is what the small and irresponsible politicians mentioned above, and their counterparts from the Israeli Left who have continued to engage in shallow politics in a time of crisis, failed to realize. All of those irresponsible figures probably forgot that when the house is burning, everyone must try to extinguish the flames and only then locate the culprits.
Israel has many challenges ahead of it. Besides the corona crisis - which has caused death and widespread illness, and also led to an acute economic crisis with an unemployment rate of 21.2% - we must not forget the security threats to the Jewish state from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
But most of all, Gantz was right in stating that the greatest existential threat to Israel is internal schism. Hence, his decision to go to a national unity government with Netanyahu demonstrates that he is now the responsible adult in Israel’s political system.
The Israeli public should congratulate and be thankful to Gantz, who risked his political career for the future of the State of Israel. Time will tell if his political move was wise, though there is no doubt that Israel's 20th chief of staff has proven that the security and unity of the Jewish state is paramount for him.
In my opinion, Benny Gantz is made of the material it takes to be prime minister. It seems the State of Israel has won its future leader, after Netanyahu vacates the prime minister's chair.
The writer is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales.