Think About It: The Likud’s reaction to Gantz

Benny Gantz’s appearance was criticized from every possible direction, which suggests that he must have hit the nail on its head.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz during the 2014 Gaza conflict. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz during the 2014 Gaza conflict.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The first public appearance of former chief of staff Benny Gantz last Tuesday as leader of the Israel Resilience Party presented a clear image and message.
Gantz lacks all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mannerisms of an autocratic leader, which he rejects as being reminiscent of Louis XIV’s “l’êtat c’est moi.” In addition, he rejects the de facto policy of the current government (especially its Likud component) that is tearing the Israeli society apart; delegitimizes anyone who holds liberal or social-democratic positions or happens to be an Arab citizen of the state; who refuses to accept the Zionist narrative; or believes that the current prime minister constitutes a danger to the democratic fabric of the State of Israel and seeks to replace him. Gantz is also a staunch upholder of the rule of law, and especially the principle that a prime minister who has been indicted cannot continue to serve (i.e. if and when there is a decision by the attorney general to put him on trial, after he has been given a fair hearing). In general, Gantz projects an air of confidence and relaxed collegiality, unlike Netanyahu, who projects an air of confidence and nervous arrogance.
In terms of specific policy plans, Gantz concentrated on issues concerning security and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He believes Israel must make every effort to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and if this effort fails, that Israel should act unilaterally to promote its vital interests. His basic vision of what Israel should insist upon is that Israel’s security border should be the Jordan River, that the Jewish settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria should form part of the State of Israel (i.e. scattered settlements and illegal outposts should not). In addition, he maintains that Israel should remain on the Golan “forever” and that Jerusalem is to remain united.
His approach on security issues is basically the old Mapai security doctrine (bithonism). Though to the best of my recollection he did not say anything specific about a two-state solution (though he did congratulate Netanyahu for his Bar-Ilan speech in which he mentioned it), what he did say implies that he believes that in order to remain Jewish and democratic, Israel must preserve its Jewish majority, which rules out the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Gantz said very little about social and economic issues. Presumably, he is a pragmatist and not an extreme neo-liberal like Netanyahu. We do know that most of the social activists he has brought into his party, or is hoping to bring in, are Mizrahim, but we do not yet know the identity of the economists who will surround him.
Gantz’s appearance was criticized from every possible direction, which suggests that he must have hit the nail on its head. The reaction of Likud spokesmen was fascinating, reflecting a combination of panic, contempt and half-baked political theories. Most Likud spokesmen declared (apparently on the basis of a page of key messages issued by the Prime Minister’s Office) that Gantz had said absolutely nothing last Tuesday, had provided no clear policies, is a Leftist masquerading as a right-winger, is a complete novice to politics in an era in which politics, including the job of prime minister, is a profession that requires skills and experience (in fact, views are divided as to whether politics is a profession), and had been a weak chief of staff (former minister of housing, Yoav Galant, who recently joined the Likud, is the most outspoken in belittling Gantz’s performance as chief of staff – one guesses because he has an ax to grind in connection with Gantz’s appointment).
In answer to Gantz’s insinuation that Netanyahu was behaving as if he were Louis XIV, the Likud spokesmen reminded Gantz that Israel is a democracy – not a monarchy. Perhaps Netanyahu ought to be reminded of this fact the next time he accuses someone with ambitions to replace him of being guilty of trying to perform a putsch, and when he decides to strengthen Israel’s alignment with a group of extreme right-wing European states, in order to sidestep Europe’s liberal majority, without consulting anyone. (On second thought, Foreign Minister Netanyahu must have consulted Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Netanyahu before he acted).
I found two Likud reactions to Gantz’s speech particularly telling. Transportation Minister Israel Katz recalled that he and Gantz were born in the same moshav: Kfar Ahim near Kiryat Malachi, both sons to Holocaust survivors. The difference between them was that Katz came from a family that was not part of the Mapai establishment, while Gantz’s father was head of the Mapai-led moshavim establishment. From this fact, Katz concluded that Gantz is “economic Leftist,” because that is what his parents were, and every person is the tavnit nof moladto (mold of his native landscape), and “one doesn’t change after the age of 50”. In other words, Katz has difficulty accepting Gantz as a potential leader because in his eyes he is part and parcel of the old Mapai elites that allegedly left anyone that was “other” – like his own family – outside.
The second comment that caught my attention was that of Environment and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who highlighted Gantz’s declaration that if no agreement can be reached with the Palestinians he will strive as prime minister to act unilaterally.
Gantz did not say what sort of action he might consider taking, but Elkin immediately concluded that he meant another unilateral disengagement plan, such as Arik Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, which might or might not have been the right thing to do from an historical/political perspective, but was undoubtedly a traumatic experience for the settlers of Gush Katif, who were forced out of their homes.
What both Katz and Elkin did was to try to delegitimize Ganz by associating him with certain historical events that he had nothing to do with, without any proof that such an association is justified. In other words, they tried to stigmatize him on the basis of “fake-news.”
Netanyahu himself has so far said very little about Gantz – perhaps because at the moment he is more concerned with the decision of the attorney general as to whether to indict him and because he is planning a foreign affairs blitz in order to impress the electorate. However, he is certainly not indifferent to Gantz’s rising popularity (according to the opinion polls) since last Tuesday.
Netanyahu is reported to be considering trying to integrate various right-wing parties into the Likud list, should Gantz pull off an agreement with Yair Lapid. He will probably be less eager to promote this move if Gantz fails with Yesh Atid and reaches an agreement with Orly Levy-Abekasis’ Gesher (for legal reasons, Levy-Abekasis won’t be able to join if Gantz reaches an agreement with Yesh Atid).
On February 20, when the registration of lists intending to run in the elections ends, we will be much the wiser. By the end of the month, we will also know whether Mandelblit will have decided whether to indict Netanyahu after a hearing.
Dull it will not be.