Middle Israel: The gospel according to Benny Gantz

Benjamin Netanyahu is not resigning, and his legal problems are therefore every Likudnik’s.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu listens to then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz in 2013.  (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu listens to then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz in 2013.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
‘I was afraid because I was naked,” Adam’s answer to God’s “Where are you?” came to mind Tuesday, as the Likud’s mouthpieces rushed to critique former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s political foray.
Culture Minister Miri Regev hollered at Channel 12’s Yonit Levi “Gantz is the New Left!” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said Gantz’s long-awaited speech was “a bunch of lefty clichés,” and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Gantz is “an inexperienced hypocrite,” all of which added up to the sounds of hysteria.
The Likud’s panic may ultimately prove exaggerated, but even before weighing its main cause – the fear that too many voters are fed up with the populism their party has come to embrace – there are other circumstances that make its leaders smell defeat.
The first is corruption.
There was only one Israeli election where corruption helped trigger a change of power. It happened in 1977, when embezzlement revelations against Labor’s nominee for the Bank of Israel’s governorship, and the suicide of its housing minister due to other allegations, resulted in the Likud’s first-ever electoral victory.
The Likud also remembers what happened in 2009, when Ehud Olmert resigned even before being indicted, and thus allowed his party, Kadima, to lose only one of its 28 Knesset seats, because his resignation made it plain that his legal entanglements were his own problem rather than his party’s.
Benjamin Netanyahu is not resigning, and his legal problems are therefore every Likudnik’s.
Alongside this moral factor comes the machismo factor. The Likud’s leaders remember all too well the ringing defeats it was handed by other retired IDF chiefs – Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 and Ehud Barak in 1999. Gantz is not likely to repeat those feats, but you can’t blame a traumatized Likudnik’s fear of those scenarios’ return, now that it faces not one, but a pair of former IDF chiefs.
Then there is the ideological factor. Likud ministers’ yelps that Gantz’s troupe is a bunch of lefties rang hollow once he brandished former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who thinks the West Bank needs another million Jewish settlers.
Then there is the social skills factor. As defense minister, Ya’alon “inherited” Gantz, who had been appointed by Barak. Even so, during three years of joint work they harmonized.
Now, Ya’alon’s willingness to follow the lead of his former subordinate, who is nine years his junior, introduces a kind of humility that so proverbially inverts Netanyahu’s arrogance. Not only does Netanyahu now face five major opponents who once were among his lieutenants (Avigdor Liberman, Moshe Kahlon, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Ya’alon), Gantz’s ticket has been joined by Zvi Hauser, who was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, and Yoaz Hendel, who was Netanyahu’s director of communications.
These, in brief, are the circumstances that make Netanyahu’s running mates feel naked, as the legal siege around their leader tightens, while the sands in the electoral hourglass run out.
Whether or not all this leads to a change of power remains to be seen, but it is not too early to say that, whatever happens electorally, and whether he ends up in the coalition or opposition, Gantz will be tested in his attitude to the Likud’s, and the era’s, overarching scourge: populism.
POPULISM is now a global plague.
Like the devil en route to the Land of Oz, ill winds of ethnic incitement, chauvinist bravado and economic hoodwinking are traveling the world, crowning rabble-rousers in capital after capital, from Washington, Brasilia and Manila to Budapest, Warsaw and Rome.
Ours is a time when a guy who promises to slash corporate and personal taxes and at the same time multiply defense spending and still cut the deficit not only gets away with such financial gibberish but also gets elected to lead the free world.
And ours is a time when elected leaders in Europe disempower their judiciaries and lay siege to the media, while the president of the US calls American courts “a joke” and “a laughingstock” and defames journalists as “the most dishonest human beings on earth.”
The ill winds that are raging out there have long arrived in the Jewish state.
Here, a conscientious, honest, professional and no-nonsense minister of defense lost his job because he wouldn’t join the mob that applauded a sergeant who shot in the head a captured terrorist.
Here, a culture minister compared African immigrants to a cancerous tumor; a deputy minister now embraces and hails in a campaign clip the sergeant who killed the disabled terrorist; and here, a squadron of lawmakers is plotting legislation that will place the prime minister above the law.
Yet all this is but an aperitif to the main course which the populists in our midst will serve us later this year, when the judiciary – as predicted this week by former Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich – indicts Netanyahu.
WITH ITS leader showing no willingness to resign, even temporarily, once indicted, and having already displayed a willingness to attack the judiciary, the Jewish state is in for a major clash between the executive and judicial branches of government.
The Israeli democracy’s foundations will be attacked from above, by the prime minister, and from below, by the mobs he will incite.
If indicted before the election, Netanyahu will say the judiciary is trying to replace the voters, and if indicted after he wins, he will say the voters have already overruled the courts.
This is the precarious moment in which Benny Gantz – a paratrooper raised on a farm halfway between Gaza and Tel Aviv by Bergen-Belsen survivor Malka, who met her husband, Nahum, on an illegal immigrants’ boat – now finds himself in the political lion’s den.
Beside an illustrious military career, including a stint as the IDF’s military attaché in Washington, the blue-eyed, 1.93-meter tall Gantz brings to his prime ministerial bid height like Charles de Gaulle’s, patriotism like Winston Churchill’s, beauty like Paul Newman’s, and innocence like Mother Teresa’s.
Considering his enemy’s troops, weapons and godlessness, this ammunition will doubtfully suffice.
The election’s dark horse will be judged by his ability to fight the populism that has become the era’s global scourge