Benny Gantz’s speech: Feigned statesmanship with deadly serious flaw

Gantz described Blue and White as a faction that came into being eight months ago to tackle “the schism and rift in Israeli society, out of a deep sense of responsibility..."

Benny Gantz talks at influencer conference in Tel Aviv (photo credit: KOBI RICHTER/TPS)
Benny Gantz talks at influencer conference in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: KOBI RICHTER/TPS)
Upon officially receiving the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to take a stab at establishing the next government, Blue and White Party chairman Benny Gantz put on a noteworthy performance.
After spending the past four weeks refusing to accept any of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposals for a national-unity coalition, Gantz took to the podium at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday night with the peculiar air of someone who had just won a landslide victory, yet delivered what can only be described as a campaign speech. He couldn’t have been more blatant about his belief that a third round of Knesset elections is in the cards if he had said so in no uncertain terms.
But then, waxing poetic and disingenuous is something at which Gantz has grown proficient since he first threw his hat in the ring ahead of the April 9 elections, and on which he greatly improved before the September 17 do-over – even with the occasional malapropisms that have provided the public, punditry and cast of the political satire TV show, Eretz Nehederet, with fodder for laughter, if not ridicule.
There was nothing funny about his mandate-acceptance address, however. On the contrary, it was a well-rehearsed exercise in feigned statesmanship with deadly serious flaws. Chief among these was Gantz’s effort to present himself as all things to all people: to the Israeli populace and the whole Jewish world, to the periphery and the center, to the ultra-Orthodox and National-Religious; to Arabs and Druze, to members of the LGBTQ community, and to the country’s young men and women whose military service earned them the right to enjoy chilling out at bars.
Gantz described Blue and White as a faction that came into being eight months ago to tackle “the schism and rift in Israeli society, out of a deep sense of responsibility on my part and on the part of my co-leaders, Yair Lapid, Moshe ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. We put aside every personal consideration... and made a commitment to put Israel before all else.”
This, he said, “is not a slogan, it is my vision, it is my obligation.”
He went on to recap the ostensible impetus for his establishing the party: a need for “unity instead of sectarianism, statesmanship instead of extremism, national reconciliation instead of fissure.”
He conveniently left out his and Lapid’s mutual electoral need for one another, the power struggle over which of them would head the party, and the dispute about how and when they would rotate their coveted premiership.
Oh, and he forgot to mention the real reason that he and his motley crew of strange bedfellows joined forces in the first place: to topple Netanyahu – which is precisely why Blue and White was dubbed the “anybody but Bibi” party. It is an apt nickname for a political entity whose platform consists of a blank canvas onto which disgruntled and undecided voters from all over the political map were invited to paint pictures of their choosing.
THIS IDEOLOGICAL collage undoubtedly has contributed to the uncoordinated, often contradictory, statements that Gantz and Lapid have given to the media and subsequently retracted. Or denied. Or neither, depending on the weather.
To camouflage internecine strife and confusion, the unlikely duo makes sure to be photographed eating hummus together and engaging in “spontaneous” group hugs with Ya’alon and Ashkenazi. Where these guys got the idea that awkward displays of staged male bonding are anything but embarrassing is a mystery. Not that it matters in the grander scheme of things. Particularly to those whose support for Blue and White stems solely from a desire to usher in and hasten the so-called “demise of the Netanyahu era.”
During his speech at the President’s Residence, Gantz went on to declare: “At this hour, the eyes of millions of citizens are upon us, expecting us to extricate Israel from the grave political crisis in which we find ourselves. During this sensitive and challenging period, IDF soldiers and commanders are expecting leadership, not narrow sectarian interests, to steer Israeli defense. Captains of industry are expecting us to bring the economy out of the destructive paralysis it entered as a result of repeated elections. Hospital administrators, teachers, farmers and scientists... everyone is waiting for us to act with public integrity... to end the political chaos [and] enable the gradual resumption of a normal, functioning, clear and safe daily routine. The entire country is waiting to heave a sigh of relief.”
Well, at least he got the bit about our seeking relief right, though he could have solved that problem weeks ago by agreeing to join a Netanyahu-led government.
In spite of his constant boasting about having won the election – because Blue and White garnered one seat more than Likud – his bloc was and still is way smaller than Netanyahu’s. Which is why he knows exactly what is in store for the “millions of citizens” for whom he expressed such empathy: yet another election cycle that nobody wants. Other than possibly Gantz himself, who must be aware of the poll showing that next time around, a larger number of voters will opt for one of the two large parties at the expense of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.
If so, Liberman may have to kiss his ill-gotten status as “kingmaker” goodbye, and let the rest of us bid him good riddance. It is Liberman, let’s not forget, who deserves a lion’s share of the credit for the current crisis. You know, being the one whose toppling of the government led to the April elections, and whose refusal to join a victorious Likud-led coalition forced last month’s second round.
Still, Gantz has been too busy bashing Netanyahu – while feebly playing catch-up to Liberman’s position on religious coercion – to cast aspersions on the Yisrael Beytenu chief’s motives or endgame.
IT WAS NOT the anti-Netanyahu sentiment in his speech that gave Gantz’s true thoughts away, though. Gantz has made no bones about his animosity toward the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, going as far as to liken Bibi to the Islamist tyrant, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Perhaps not quite as bad as comparing him – as Liberman did – to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but outrageous nevertheless.
No, Gantz’s address was revealing for two reasons beyond Netanyahu.
The first, as was pointed out earlier, is that he is carefully preparing his next election campaign. This was obvious not in his words, but in their target audience: the electorate.
As much of a novice as he is, Gantz must have known, while writing or approving his speech, that in order to fulfill his newfound task of building a coalition, he needs to curry favor with and offer deals to party leaders, not the public, which already cast its ballots. Though it’s now up to him and his fellow politicians to negotiate terms for a government, Gantz alternated between sounding like a sitting prime minister discussing the state of the nation and a candidate seeking election. It bears stressing here that he is neither.
The second significant takeaway from his lengthy oration was the impossibility of his being able to spread a “wide tent” over all sectors of society, when the conditions he laid out for inclusion in this utopian fantasy clash with one another at best and are mutually exclusive at worst.
How can he achieve a “unity government based on basic principles agreed upon by most Knesset factions,” when no such consensus exists? What is the meaning of his saying that the “liberal government” he intends to head will welcome “anyone who views the national interest as paramount... anyone who is an Israeli patriot” – while courting the Joint (Arab) List, which includes Knesset members who pray, along with their Palestinian brethren, for Israel’s elimination? And if he is as open to haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and national-religious support as he asserted, why did he nix Netanyahu’s bloc and spend the month torpedoing the coalition talks?
It doesn’t take an Israeli rocket scientist to realize that Gantz’s only options are forming a narrow left-wing coalition with outside backing from the Arab parties – a dangerous prospect that would result in new elections shortly thereafter in any case – or admitting at the end of his 28 allotted days that he has failed.
The latter seems most likely, thanks to Gantz and the political system that made Liberman’s completely legal machinations possible.