Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who abandoned his former allies in order to join a failed unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is now calling on centrist and left-wing parties to join forces in the upcoming elections in order to ensure Netanyahu will not win again. Gantz famously blew up the upstart Blue and White party last spring, in an effort to become co-Prime Minister with Netanyahu. But he should have thought twice before jumping into bed with the most seasoned political tactician Israel has ever known.
Gantz apologized that the he “shook the hand of this man whom I pledged to replace, I shook the hand of a serial promise-breaker,” in an address to the nation on live TV.
He explained that he made a deal with Netanyahu in order to save the country which was facing the beginnings of the COVID pandemic sweeping through Israel.
“While a real and lethal pandemic is raging and threatening the lives of all of us, [Netanyahu] continued to divide and incite because it serves his personal interest and so he can escape his day in court,” Gantz said. “We cannot allow him to disperse us into fragments of parties – there is great danger that the opportunity will pass if we remain scattered across so many factions.”
Gantz’s plea comes as Israel heads to its fourth round of elections in just under two years. It also comes as polls show that Gantz’s party, Blue and White, may not even garner enough votes to enter the next government. A far cry from the 35 seats the party garnered in the last election.
While many opposition leaders were burned by Gantz’s abandonment of their alliances for a chance at getting to be alternate prime minister, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party simply said, “we will make every effort toward mergers that will lead to a sane … government that will change the country.”
On the other hand, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, outright dismissed Gantz’s offer.
“We already had an opportunity to replace [Netanyahu] but you chose to become a reserve prime minister,” he said. “The only thing you can do now for the country is to announce you are not running for Knesset.”
Not all parties will be so quick to dismiss Gantz, however. First of all, his party comes with around $6 million in campaign money. Second, many small parties will need to team up in order to even get enough seats to be in the Knesset, which requires a 3.25% threshold for entering.
According to Blue and White, Gantz has approached several party leaders already including Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, The Israelis’ Ron Huldai, Meretz’s Nitzan Horovitz, Telem’s Moshe Yaalon, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Labor’s Amir Peretz, Tnufa’s Ofer Shelah and New Economics’ Yaron Zelekha.
Two other parties that have been billed as “anti-Netanyahu” are New Hope, a right-wing party led by Gideon Sa’ar, and the Joint List, a composition of Arab Israeli parties led by Ayman Odeh.
The election is scheduled for March 23 aptly timed to coincide with most of the country being vaccinated against the coronavirus hence adding to Netanyahu’s efforts to show he has the situation under control.