Gantz's stammering stance and Netanyahu's mudslinging

Kicking off a political campaign by pointing out the flaws of one’s opponent is par for the course, and nobody knows this better than Benny Gantz.

A combination picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel November 17, 2019, and leader of Blue and White party Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Israel November 20, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS//NIR ELIAS/AMIR COHEN)
A combination picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel November 17, 2019, and leader of Blue and White party Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Israel November 20, 2019
Of all the mud slung at Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, this week’s phony scandal surrounding comments he made about his key rival in the upcoming Knesset elections deserves a prize for the slimiest.
The orchestrated outrage in question followed the launch of the Likud Party campaign on Tuesday evening in Jerusalem. During the flashy event – which resembled a rock concert replete with adoring fans – Netanyahu ridiculed Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz for being indecisive and ill-fit to lead the country.
The way he did this was to show a video clip of Gantz fumfering in response to questions about policy, and then to imitate the Blue and White leader’s faltering.
Making fun of the fact that Gantz’s entire platform is based on an “anybody but Bibi” mantra, Netanyahu said, “It used to be ‘either us or them.’ Today, it’s ‘either us or eh, eh, eh.’ Now the question is, ‘What would they be doing? What would they be doing if they were [heading] the government?”
Nothing unusual there. Kicking off a political campaign by pointing out the flaws of one’s opponent is par for the course. Nobody knows this better than Gantz, whose fledgling political career has consisted solely of attacks on Netanyahu.
But Gantz gets a pass for his political tactics, while Netanyahu is raked over the coals whenever he opens his mouth. As a result, his parody was purposely misconstrued by the press, ad nauseam, and reported as an affront to people suffering from speech disorders. Immediately, Israel Stuttering Association chairman Hanan Horowitz released a statement that Netanyahu’s “mocking imitation of a person who stutters is a new low from the highest of elected officials.”
With all due sympathy to anyone afflicted with the difficult impediment, taking offense at Netanyahu’s dig at Gantz – who does not actually stutter, but whose lack of coherency causes him to become tongue-tied – is ludicrous. Nevertheless, Netanyahu apologized.
On Wednesday evening he tweeted, “In my speech last night, I was pointing to the fact that Benny Gantz has no achievements, has nothing to offer and has nothing to say to the citizens of Israel. Contrary to the way things were presented in the media, I certainly wasn’t referring to people with any kind of disabilities, and if anyone was hurt by what I said, I am deeply sorry.”
There is no doubt about the sincerity of his words. Indeed, the only impairment of Gantz’s that Netanyahu has been underscoring for the past year is ideological/intellectual. Calling Gantz incompetent is not only legitimate; it’s actually pretty mild in comparison to the vicious anti-Bibi character assassination in which the Blue and White team engages without let-up.
Ironically, this includes pouncing on every opportunity to highlight Netanyahu’s verbal slip-ups during interviews, going so far as to zoom in on faint droplets of perspiration glistening on the scar above his lip. Yet nobody who stammers, sweats or possesses a facial disfigurement has come forward to protest the affront, certainly not to take it personally.
Nor did anyone go after the Hebrew networks for repeatedly airing Netanyahu’s seemingly contradictory statements regarding his quest for immunity from prosecution in the three cases for which he was indicted by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit. These broadcasts contained archival footage of Bibi claiming that he would not seek immunity, alongside his ultimate request of the Knesset that he be granted it.
Fair enough. If politicians don’t want to be called out for real or perceived inconsistencies in past and current remarks, they’re in the wrong business and should get out of the game. As the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, Netanyahu knows this full well, and acts accordingly. Whenever confronted with such discrepancies, therefore, he tackles them head-on – which he did in this case by assuring the public that he is not trying to evade standing on trial but rather to postpone doing so.
In contrast, as a novice, Gantz treats the above type of embarrassment as an injustice. Unlike Netanyahu, his response to being caught contradicting himself is to recoil and blame other members of his party for not conveying a uniform front – whatever that means at a given moment, depending on polls and op-eds.
WHICH BRINGS us to Netanyahu’s focus on the heavy-duty flip-flopping that has characterized Gantz’s campaign since its inception before the first round of elections in April.
In fairness to the former IDF chief of staff whose height outranks his stature, heading a party whose members hail from across the spectrum while trying to be all things to all people is no easy feat. Furthermore, he has managed to become Bibi’s biggest contender to date. That this is due more to his being a blank slate onto which voters can project their fantasies of a “new dawn” than to his questionable capabilities is irrelevant. His clear blue eyes and opaque message resonated at the ballot box, and that’s what ultimately counts in a democracy.
The trouble is that whenever Gantz does succeed in articulating a policy – such as preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, forging relations with Israel’s Arab neighbors and strengthening ties with the United States – it is either one that Netanyahu already holds or has implemented successfully. In addition, every time Gantz has aimed to court sectors of society who oppose Netanyahu from the Left, and to distance himself enough from Likud positions to persuade the Arab parties to recommend that he be called on to form the coalition after the election, he ends up backtracking.
And with good reason.
However many mandates Blue and White is projected by pollsters to garner, the basic political map has not changed. The Right side of the electoral pie chart is larger than the Left, even with the Arab parties, most of whose members are anti-Zionists. Were it not for Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s sudden reversal of his hitherto stated backing for a Likud-led government after the April 9 election, Netanyahu would have had an easy victory. It was Liberman’s similar refusal following the second round on September 17 that led to yet another impasse, which is why Israelis are being forced to go through with process for a third time on March 2.
Gantz has no chance of becoming prime minister then unless he attracts votes from Liberman and the Right. To this end, he needs to present himself as “more Bibi than Bibi,” but without looming indictments. No wonder he and his top cohorts in the so-called “cockpit” blew a gasket when MK Yael German, a member of Blue and White from Yair Lapid’s original Yesh Atid party, told Army Radio on Monday that reports of Gantz’s courting Religious-Zionist voters by coming out in favor of annexing the Jordan Valley were false.
“I don’t know where [you got that idea],” she said. “In fact, we are talking about an arrangement based on a disengagement from the Jordan Valley. This is clearly written in our party platform.”
The next morning, after “cockpit” number-two Lapid did his own stammering about German’s not really having said what she meant or meant what she said, Gantz paid a visit to the Jordan Valley, where he vowed to annex it if and when he becomes prime minister. Calling the area “Israel’s protective wall,” he announced that it would remain a non-negotiable part of the Jewish state in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. As if to wink at the peace fantasists whose support he can’t afford to forfeit, he added that the move would be executed “in coordination with the international community.”
In other words, Gantz imposed a stipulation on his own promise that automatically prevents him from fulfilling it. It would be a clever ploy if it weren’t so pathetically transparent.
Then there’s the little matter of US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century.”
Earlier this month, sources in Blue and White reported that Gantz was vehemently opposed to the unveiling of the much-touted peace plan before March 2, on the grounds that it would constitute “gross interference” by the White House in the Israeli election. To put it another way, he was afraid that it would give Netanyahu an advantage at the polls; you know, as the major player on the world stage that the incumbent Israeli premier has been for more than a decade.
On Tuesday, however – the same day that he went to the Jordan Valley to talk about annexation – Gantz changed his tune completely, claiming to welcome the plan’s early publication. He must have come to the realization that playing catch-up to his nemesis where Washington is concerned wouldn’t be wise.
His about-facing is as worthy of caricature as it is of contempt. If aping it to illustrate why he cannot be trusted is tantamount to insensitivity, that’s just too bad.