In the three election campaigns that took place between the beginning of April 2019 and the beginning of March 2020, a new list surged into center stage, that was founded by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. With determination and persistence, Lapid founded a completely new party that survived two election campaigns, in 2013 and 2015, with a great success that had almost no precedent in Israeli political history.
Benny Gantz’s move was both impressive and deserving of great respect. One day, in December 2018, he stood in front of the Israeli public and declared simple, yet poignant ideas, which touched the hearts of many Israelis. Gantz announced that he was launching a new party called Hosen L’Yisrael (The Israel Resilience Party), which he registered on December 27, 2018. Later on, the party merged with Telem, founded by former Defense Minister Bogie Ya'alon, and on February 21, 2019, it merged with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party. This is how the Blue and White Movement came into existence, including former IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
With the establishment of the Blue and White Movement, a new chapter in the political life of the State of Israel commenced. Thirteen years ago, the Kadima political party was formed prior to Israel’s 2006 elections. Kadima won the election in a landslide victory, whereas the Likud suffered a major loss, receiving only 12 mandates. The new Kadima party was formed by leaders who were correctly portrayed as an undeniable threat to Netanyahu’s extended rule.
Over a year ago, hope was born. But now, that hope is fading, even though we need it nowadays more than ever. We cannot reach this painful conclusion without reviewing the events that have taken place over the past year or so, before the first 2019 election and continuing until the present time, while negotiations are underway between Blue and White and Likud.
In all three of the election campaigns, Blue and White leaders spoke very little about Israel’s core issues. They did not address topics such as our relationship with the Palestinians, the chance that talks will resume, and under which conditions and circumstances; failures in Israel’s educational system; the growing number of poor people in Israel; Israel’s weakening health system (which Gantz alluded to in Case 5000); the growing social gap between Israel’s rich and poor, which is among the worst among OECD countries; increasing traffic; the economic gap between the social periphery and central Israel, which in some ways feels like a separate country; and neglect of Israel’s Arab citizens. All of these topics were only mentioned as an aside, and not as a basis on which the party was planning to form its future government.
All three of the recent election campaigns focused on two main issues, in large part due to the divisive and provocative conduct of the prime minister.
The first subject was the possibility, for the first time in Israel’s history, that an Arab party, in this case one led by Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi, could influence the composition of Israel’s Knesset. This was the central issue in all three election campaigns. Netanyahu, in his contentious and divisive way, tried to cast suspicion on Gantz and Friends, warning that they would form a government with a party whose members were, in Netanyahu’s words, “traitors who supported terrorism and yearn for the destruction of Israel.”
Gantz and Blue and White pledged not to sit in a government with the Arab Joint List. They made this declaration loud and clear. Benny Gantz, Bogie Ya'alon and Gabi Ashkenazi – all former IDF chiefs of staff, and Yair Lapid, pledged not to include Ayman Odeh, Ahmed Tibi and any other Arab MKs in any government they were to form.
They never pledged that they would refuse to form a government, even if it were supported by direct voting or an abstention by Arab MKs. Every Israeli voter, however, understood that if Gantz were to form a government, neither Odeh nor Tibi would be appointed as ministers, and they would not be partners in a coalition agreement. Both Gantz and Odeh repeated again and again that Israel’s Arabs are part and parcel of Israeli society, since the Arabs are citizens with equal rights. Benny Gantz went so far as to invite Ayman Odeh to participate for the first time in a protest against the current administration, against Binyamin Netanyahu’s divisive policies, and against his continued tenure as prime minister.
In other words, Blue and White pledged not to form a government that the Joint List would be a part of, just as the Joint List pledged not to join such a government. All other possibilities for cooperation were not discussed publicly, and so they had not been rejected.
The second focus of the election campaigns was Netanyahu’s ability to continue serving as prime minister. In his first political speech as the leader of a party, on January 28, 2019, Gantz said, “Except for my family, there is nothing more important to me than the State of Israel. For me, Israel truly comes before everything else.” Then he added, “The current government encourages incitement and division. It has denounced the country’s basic values and replaced them with values found in French royalty. Instead of serving the country, the government looms over the people and the people bore it.”
These are the mildest words Gantz used when talking about Netanyahu. As time passed, and we had the first election, then the second and finally the third election campaign, the expressions Gantz used when referring to Netanyahu became increasingly harsher.
In essence, Gantz and his comrades in Blue and White, pledged not to join Likud and Netanyahu in forming a government, claiming that a person who’s been indicted cannot serve as prime minister, especially when such serious charges of bribery are involved. Gantz pledged that as soon as the Knesset is convened, he will pass a law which states that a person with a criminal grievance against him cannot serve in the government, and certainly not as prime minister.
Gantz did not hesitate to accuse Netanyahu and his entourage of threatening the integrity of democratic life, of disrupting the work of the Attorney General and Israel Police, and of disemboweling Israel’s courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, all in an effort to achieve one goal: to enable Netanyahu to continue serving as prime minister, no matter how high a price the country will have to pay.
After Gantz was granted the task of forming a government just one month ago, he even pledged to have Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein replaced, and to pass legislation that would prevent an incumbent MK from forming a government if at that time he’d been served with an indictment and was awaiting trial.
At this point, it is incumbent upon us to note the following: Gantz and Blue and White pledged not to form a government with the Joint Arab list, and at the same time, they also pledged not to go into a partnership with a party whose leader has been indicted.
In other words, Gantz was convinced that he’d succeed in forming a government without the Joint List and without the Likud. Just how was he planning on doing that? Did anyone imagine that Blue and White would win enough mandates that it wouldn’t need the support of either the Joint List or Likud?
How is it then, that two days before he did an about-face turn, he was still talking about having the Knesset speaker replaced, and pushing legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from continuing to serve as prime minister?
Gantz declared (and rightly so) that what you see before an election is not necessarily what happens after it has been concluded. Everyone knows this aphorism. However, if he knew ahead of time – and he surely knew ahead of time – that he would not be able to keep the promises he made on the eve of the election, why did he repeat them afterwards, too?
If he understood that he’d be forced to break some of his promises, why did he repeatedly declare that he would not sit in a government with someone who’d been indicted with such a severe crime, while at the same moment engage in direct or indirect negotiations regarding a matter that he’d specifically pledged not to.
Contrary to what Gantz said, there was still another serious and decent option that could have brought about a political, social and national revolution, and created another chance for the State of Israel to remain hopeful. Gantz could have formed a minority government, with the one-time support of the Joint List. Not a partnership, in which they would not be part of a coalition agreement, and without receiving any ministerial positions. They didn’t want this, and he didn’t want this, and there was no need for such an arrangement.
All he needed to do was act with determination, persistence, and courage to protect democracy from those who threaten it. Now, the people who were a threat to democracy will become Gantz and Ashkenazi’s partners. Not only will Gantz and Ashkenazi sit in a government led by people who’d been declared morally perverse; not only would they not work to pass legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from continuing to serve his term, but they were pledging to support a law that would enable him continue serving in government, also as acting prime minister, even though he’d been indicted, was awaiting trial, and posing as a threat to democracy.
The agreement between Blue and White and Likud, according to Blue and White representatives, deals with all the minutiae, including legislative amendments that would ensure its existence. Why are these necessary? For the simple reason that neither Gantz nor Ashkenazi believe one word of the pledge made by Netanyahu and his gang of bandits. Why would legislative amendments be necessary if there was trust? And if there’s no trust, then how can they run the country, form a government and take responsibility for its fate?
The excuse Gantz gave for his about face was that we are currently in the midst of an existential war for our survival against the COVID-19 virus. Indeed, this is a tough war we’re fighting, that’s full of suspense and is costing the people of Israel dearly. It’s becoming clearer now to everyone, however, that the government has failed miserably to prepare the country for the health crisis we’re experiencing. Because the government had failed to formulate a proper working plan, we are sorely lacking in medical supplies and equipment, and we have lost all sense of calm and restraint. The only thing that Gantz had to say about Israel’s health system during the election campaign, in his speech about Case 5000, has now been exposed.
Our country’s best medical minds have alleged in no uncertain terms, without attempting to whitewash their words, that the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been a complete and utter disaster, which follows ten years of neglect of Israel’s health system. And now, Gantz is joining this government because of COVID-19, and is no longer demanding that Blue and White be given the health ministry in an effort to save it after so many years of inattention.
Yes, this is what’s happening right in front of our eyes. We have no choice but to call things by their name, especially since I believe that Gantz and his associates can and should take over the leadership of the country – not with Bibi, but in his stead.
This won’t be a unity government. It will be a government made up of Netanyahu’s crime gang, which Gantz and decent, innocent and powerless associates, will have been brought in, in the words of Chief of Staff Ya’alon, who was Gantz’s commander and partner, to drive the escape car for the fugitive as he flees the crime scene.
There is no Blue or White. Everything is black.
The author was the 12th Prime Minister of Israel.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.