Gantz & Lapid: Similarities across the Center

Gantz is soaring right now in the polls and has turned his party into the greatest threat to Netanyahu’s continued reign. Nevertheless, the Center-Left bloc doesn't have the numbers to beat him.

Benny Gantz makes his maiden campaign address for prime minister at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Tuesday night (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benny Gantz makes his maiden campaign address for prime minister at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Tuesday night
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘There’s some confusion. He’s starting to think that the state is him. Israel is not a monarchy; there are no royal palaces here.”
Who said this?
Sound like Benny Gantz at his coming-out speech on Tuesday? You’re right, it does. But it wasn’t Gantz who made the above statement. It was Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, who made the comment during a speech in the Knesset over a year ago.
This is what Gantz said on Tuesday: “There was already a king who said: ‘The State is me.’ But no, not here. No Israeli leader is a king. The state is not me; the state is you. The state is actually us – the state is all of us.”
Here is another example. On January 3, Lapid posted the following on Facebook: “Mr. Netanyahu, do you know what happens when a ruler forgets that he serves the public? A civil revolt.” Below the text, Lapid posted a photo of France’s King Louis XIV and the famous words attributed to him: ‘L’etat c’est moi’ – ‘I am the state.’
In his rollout speech on Tuesday night Gantz said: “The basic values of Israeli statehood have been converted into the mannerisms of a French royal house.”
And one last comparison: on Tuesday Gantz said: “A strong government governs to unite and doesn’t govern in order to separate… I feel that the time has come for new leadership, which will create a united, unified, cohesive society.”
A few weeks earlier, in Rishon Lezion, Lapid said: “Israeli society’s strength doesn’t come from separating in order to govern; it comes from uniting in order to govern. That is what we will do – unite and govern.”
I DIDN’T list these similarities because I suspect that Gantz lifted parts of his speech from Lapid. That is not the case. The reason the speeches are similar is because Lapid and Gantz’s positions are similar – and they both are appealing to the same constituents. As a result, they will naturally voice the same messages – disgust with corruption, the need for unity, and the importance of hope.
They represent a demographic of Israelis who want security but are fed up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They want Israel to be strong, but can’t stand the divisiveness of the Likud Party and its members; they want their politicians to stop attacking one another, and instead present the people with a positive vision: one of hope.
Gantz is soaring right now in the polls and has turned his party – Israel Resilience – into the greatest threat to Netanyahu’s continued reign. Nevertheless, the Center-Left bloc that he belongs to still does not reach 61 Knesset seats, the number needed to defeat Netanyahu. As the post-speech polls show, Gantz’s new votes came from Lapid and Labor, not Likud or the New Right. What this means is that Lapid voters are pretty much Gantz voters and vice versa.
And that is basically the main challenge: how to pull votes away from the right-wing bloc that according to this week’s polls still stands the best chance of winning the election and having one of its representatives – likely Benjamin Netanyahu – tapped to form the next coalition.
IT IS NOT even clear that a merger between Gantz and Lapid would move votes between the blocs. For now, Lapid won’t agree to step down from the No. 1 spot – and neither will Gantz.
On the one hand, it’s understandable. On an emotional level, Lapid looks at Gantz and gets upset. He has put seven years into politics and now, all of a sudden, a former chief of staff comes and steals his votes. On the other hand, Lapid knows that this is how politics is played, and recognizes that Gantz is basically what he was in 2013 when Yesh Atid surprised everyone by winning 19 Knesset seats. For an eventual merger to happen, the two will likely need to agree on a rotation as prime minister if they win: two years Lapid and then two years Gantz, or the opposite.
If and until that happens, the deal Gantz made with Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon is critical for his potential success. While his party is mostly up in polls because of the star effect of his speech, the alliance with Ya’alon shores up Gantz’s right-wing credentials, and is the best defense against claims – already voiced by Likud – that he is left-wing and dangerous to the State of Israel.
Ya’alon is not coming alone. He brings with him two former Netanyahu aides: Zvika Hauser, who served as the prime minister’s cabinet secretary, and Yoaz Hendel, a journalist who served in 2012 as Netanyahu’s spokesman. (Disclosure: I co-authored a book with Hendel on Iran in 2011.)
THE YA’ALON-Hendel-Hauser trio neutralizes claims that Gantz is left-wing and gives him the best starting point to potentially pull votes away from Likud and the rest of the Right. For that to happen though, Gantz and Ya’alon are going to have to get their messaging straight.
For example, one of the problems that the late Kadima Party had was that some of its members spoke Left and others spoke Right. The public picks up on these discrepancies, as do political adversaries who know how to use them to their advantage.
Beyond being tall Ashkenazi men, what Gantz, Ya’alon and Hendel have in common is that they are all viewed as clean and clear of any corruption. Hendel, for example, left Netanyahu’s office after he became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against one of the prime minister’s close advisers and brought them directly to the attorney-general.
While he thought he was protecting the premier from potentially interfering in the case and obstructing justice, Netanyahu held Hendel accountable for keeping him in the dark, and eventually told his spokesman that he no longer had his trust. Hendel saluted and left. Without the prime minister’s trust, he didn’t see a point staying in his position.
Ya’alon and Gantz are similar. Not only are they both former chiefs of staff, no one has ever made claims against them of impropriety or of misusing their power. They are perceived as men of honor who have dedicated their lives to the defense and service of this country. How they catapult that to electoral gain is a different question.
THROUGHOUT HIS military career, Gantz often recalled how he stood – as a fresh soldier – along the route traveled by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat during his historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977. Never could he have imagined then that in 2000 he would be the last soldier to cross the border with Lebanon when Israel pulled out of the security zone it had controlled there for 18 years. Moreover, he wouldn’t have predicted then that 11 years later he would become IDF chief of staff.
To some of his military colleagues, Gantz over the years seemed to be indecisive, nonchalant and too easy going. To others though, he was an officer who was thoughtful, considerate, contemplative and meticulous. He didn’t make decisions on a whim, but he also didn’t shy away from the use of force.
On Tuesday night he showed that side. He didn’t just launch an attack against Netanyahu; he presented Israelis with a new vision for the country, one that is hopeful and less divisive. When some in the crowd started to boo the prime minister, he told them to stop.
Gantz will need to walk that line carefully for the next 10 weeks. While he might be today’s rising star, he is just getting started. A lot can happen between now and April 9.