Saying goodbye to Benny Gantz once the government falls - opinion

The assertion that Netanyahu spends all his time fretting over his legal troubles and none handling affairs of the state is especially ridiculous in light of recent events.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is seen during the preliminary vote to dissolve the Knesset on December 2, 2020. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/YEDIOT AHARONOT/POOL)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is seen during the preliminary vote to dissolve the Knesset on December 2, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Wednesday’s passage of the first reading of the Knesset dispersal bill by reminding the public that politics is secondary to policy.
He did this not merely by stating – as he and his key coalition partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, have been doing ad nauseam – that ministerial rivalries need to take a back seat to the needs of the country as it grapples with the health-related and economic ramifications of the coronavirus crisis. Rather, he highlighted his own recent achievements, both in spite of and in relation to the pandemic.
This is not to say that he didn’t finish his oratory without attacking Gantz. On the contrary, he let his defense minister/alternate premier have it.
Blaming Gantz for “being dragged to elections” by opposition leader Yair Lapid and Yamina MK Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu accused him of having formed an “opposition within the coalition.”
Gantz shot back. “We all know the truth, and you do, too,” he said. “If there weren’t a trial, there would be a budget. If there weren’t a trial, there would be a functioning government. If there weren’t a trial, there would be unity.”
This is Gantz’s go-to mantra, the one chanted by the “anybody but Bibi” camp that he was originally elected to head: the assertion that Netanyahu spends all his time fretting over his legal troubles and none handling affairs of the state. It’s a comical notion, whatever one’s feelings about the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history.
It’s especially ridiculous in light of recent events. These include the forging of historic peace deals with Arab countries; conducting a covert war on Iranian infrastructure and operatives; and pre-purchasing COVID-19 vaccines from Western countries at “warp speed,” to borrow the name of US President Donald Trump’s program.
But Gantz is in a bind.
It’s the same predicament he’s faced since April, when he joined Netanyahu in a national-unity government. That was when his partner parties in Blue and White blew a gasket and split from the bloc, and when many of his supporters began to scream that he’d “stolen” their votes.
They had a point. His only appeal to them was his physical stature and military credentials, which they thought would make him the only candidate who could beat Bibi. He really didn’t have much else to offer.
As a result, the best he could do was make fun of Netanyahu for all the wrong things.
Take the speech he delivered in February 2019 to announce his Israel Resilience Party’s final list for the April 9 Knesset election, for example.
Addressing his nemesis, in absentia, Gantz remarked, “When I lay in the muddy trenches with my soldiers on frozen winter nights, you, Benjamin Netanyahu, left Israel to learn English and practice it at luxurious cocktail parties. On the days when I commanded the Shaldag Unit in life-threatening operations in enemy states, you, Benjamin Netanyahu, worked your way bravely and with determination between the makeup rooms of TV studios. While I trained generations of commanders and fighters, you took acting lessons in a New York studio. And during the nights of tension and stress, when I fell asleep in my uniform and boots, you, Benjamin Netanyahu, had the world’s most respected tailors taking your measurements, and returned safely to your bed in your prestigious hotel.”
Turning to the packed audience of adoring fans (most of whom have since become his detractors), he declared, “In a month and a half, we will all go to choose between a ruler with Boston English, heavy makeup and luxury suits, and Israeli leadership – genuine, caring, not fake or artificial – leadership that can look you in the eye.”
Even Netanyahu’s worst enemies had to admit that this was a gross misrepresentation. Netanyahu’s flawless English did not come at the expense of his military service as a soldier and officer in the IDF’s most elite special-forces unit, Sayeret Matkal.
NOR DID HIS having spent years studying and working in the United States prevent him from being wounded in battle and taking part in perilous missions. Prominent among these was the storming of Sabena Flight 971, hijacked on May 8, 1972, by four armed members of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September. When Netanyahu participated in that hostage-rescue operation, Gantz was a month shy of his 13th birthday, likely practicing for his bar mitzvah.
As for the makeup, well, Netanyahu has been in many TV studios over the decades, making Israel’s case to a largely hostile foreign press. Gantz forgot to mention that Netanyahu additionally honed his language skills and dress code while serving brilliantly for four years as ambassador to the UN – before returning home, being elected to the Knesset, rising up the ranks with various ministerial positions and become prime minister, once from 1996 to 1999, and the second time from 2009 to the present.
In contrast, Gantz’s career has been marked by inadvertent good luck. As Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz noted this week, “In July 2009, Gantz was serving as the IDF military attaché in Washington, looking at retirement. Then-defense minister Ehud Barak wanted Yoav Gallant to be the deputy chief of staff; then-chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi wanted Gadi Eisenkot. In the end, as a compromise, they chose Gantz. Fast forward to 2011, when just months after retiring and hanging up his uniform, Gantz was called back to the IDF to serve as chief of staff after the appointment of Gallant had to be rescinded.”
A similar stroke of fortune landed Gantz the leadership of the “anybody but Bibi” bloc.
The trouble is that his only draw to a disparate collection of followers was his vow never to sit with Netanyahu in a government. Once he reneged on that, it was the beginning of the end of his political career.
He still has one flicker of hope, however. According to the coalition deal’s rotation agreement, he is slated to become prime minister in September 2021. Of course, this can’t happen if the government falls before then.
To make matters more complicated, the deal has a clause stating that if a budget isn’t approved by December 23, the Knesset automatically disbands and new elections are called. This is why Gantz keeps begging Netanyahu to push through a budget before the deadline – even while calling him a crook and berating him for failed leadership.
It also accounts for his speech on Tuesday, in which he explained why he was going to vote in favor of dispersing the Knesset, yet simultaneously left an opening for himself to remain in the Netanyahu-led government. The public didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the transparency of his pathetic plea, which began with a verbal assault on the person he hopes will consent to it.
Reiterating that he had entered the government “with a heavy heart, but with conviction,” he assured listeners that he never had any illusions about Netanyahu.
“I was familiar with his record as a serial promise-breaker,” Gantz said. “But I thought that the citizens of Israel were more important than any [individual] leader, and that Netanyahu would rise [to the occasion]. That didn’t happen.”
He continued, “Netanyahu promised unity? He promised. Netanyahu made a commitment that there wouldn’t be tricks and shticks? He made a commitment. Netanyahu promised responsible management of the coronavirus crisis? He promised. Netanyahu doesn’t keep his promises and the public pays for it.”
For dramatic effect, he added, “It wasn’t to me that Netanyahu lied. It was to you that he lied.
“It wasn’t me that Netanyahu led astray, but rather all Israeli citizens.”
It’s an odd way for someone who just voted for the Knesset dispersal bill to request that Netanyahu prevent another round of elections for the sake of unity. Whether Netanyahu grants Gantz’s wish and approves the budget in less than three weeks remains to be seen.
Even if he does, however, there are two things that Gantz must realize.
One is that only a miracle will keep this government from falling in the near future.
The other is that it’s Bennett’s soaring poll numbers on Bibi’s radar right now. Gantz is history.