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BENNY GANTZ - ISRAEL'S NEXT PRIME MINISTER?

Benny Gantz (Credit: IDF - CC BY 2.0)

Remember the name - Benny Gantz. A former IDF Chief of Staff, Gantz has just rocked the current Israeli election campaign - voters go to the polls on April 9th. What's happened? For weeks Gantz, a soft-spoken former paratroop commander, standing 6'5 tall, ran a low key campaign. He barely spoke at all, for which he was lambasted by the media and by his political rivals, in particular, by Bibi's Likud supporters. Then, on the night of January 29th, Gantz took off the wraps at his party convention. The whole country was waiting to hear what Israel's "Forest Gump" had to say finally. It turned out to be a blockbuster! Speaking quietly to his enthralled supporters and the nation, Gantz hauled Netanyahu over the coals. He compared Bibi's administration to that of the corrupt French Monarch Louis XIV - "The state? I am the State!". Bibi, now facing four investigations and possible indictment, had veered from the "straight and narrow" and the country was paying the price.

It is fair to say that Gantz indeed "stood tall." He sent a message that the time had come for change and that he and his party were ready to meet the challenge. His message has resonated favorably throughout most of the country - he spoke to the issues without faltering along the way. He merely made clear - this is who I am, and this is what I will do if elected Prime Minister.

First, to the critical issue of war and peace: 

  • Naturally faced with Iranian and Hizballah threats from Syria and Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel's security must always come first. Obviously, as a former IDF Chief of Staff, Gantz comes with the highest credentials.
Gantz would seek a solution, but it must never jeopardize Israel's ultimate security.

Palestinian Issue:

  • Gantz would seek a solution, but it must never jeopardize Israel's ultimate security.

Economic & Social Policy:

  • While Israel is a prosperous and innovative state, this has come at the expense of the underprivileged, and he will act to remedy this. 

Gantz chastised Netanyahu for insulting a female Likud supporter who recently interrupted Netanyahu's speech on the development of Kiryat Shmona by yelling at her and saying, "you don't interest us, be quiet." This woman was protesting the fact that the government had not provided a necessary health clinic to the residents of her city. This incident was a significant blunder by Bibi, who draws much of his political support from the peripheral communities and their primarily Mizrahi-Jewish population. (I wonder if Gantz will at some point declare that if he is elected Prime Minister, one of his first decisions will be to build a proper clinic for Kiryat Shmona.)

Within 24 hours, Gantz upset the election campaign and posed the first serious threat to Netanyahu.

In Short, Gantz completed his first political mission and returned safely to base. The media then went into a frenzy of polling - how had Israeli voters reacted to this "new guy on the block"? Within 24 hours, Gantz upset the election campaign and posed the first serious threat to Netanyahu. His party has now rocketed from a previous rating of 15 Knesset seats to as high as 24. In comparison, Bibi's Likud party slipped slightly to 30 or so.

Moreover, if Gantz and Yair Lapid join forces, they would outnumber Likud by five Knesset seats. And, no less critical, the pollsters found that Gantz and Netanyahu were in a tie when it came to the question of who was most suited to be next Prime Minister! Naturally, Likud and the other Right-wing parties lashed out at Gantz, who has succeeded in taking center stage in the fierce battle being waged between the Israeli Right and Left wings. (The Right-wing rejects any notion of a Palestinian state on the West Bank that is favored by the Left under proper security conditions.)

The Right-wing strategy is trying to brand Gantz as just another Left-wing bleeding heart willing to sacrifice Israel's existence to Islamic fanatics who declare their intention to wipe the Jewish entity off the map.

The Right-wing strategy is trying to brand Gantz as just another Left-wing bleeding heart willing to sacrifice Israel's existence to Islamic fanatics who declare their intention to wipe the Jewish entity off the map. As for the Center-Left, the polls indicate that Gantz has gutted Lapid's party as well as leaving Labor far behind. But this is only the beginning - a political novice, Gantz could still foul up, although he has a team of sharp advisors who have, so far, guided him on the political battlefield. On the other hand, the possibility of Bibi being indicted before election day could also adversely affect the PM's election prospects.

Israeli politician Orly Levy (photo credit: מאת טל וידר, דוברות הכנסת, CC BY-SA 4.0)

By the way, Netanyahu has said that he will not resign even if he is indicted. Israeli law does not obligate a sitting Prime Minister to resign unless and until the Supreme Court rejects his future appeal to any possible conviction. The experts say that this process could take a couple of years! For his part, Gantz quipped, "I find it absurd that a Prime Minister could remain in office after his indictment." But all that remains to be seen, as Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ponders whether or not to indict Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, the blue-eyed Gantz is also considering a deal to bring in another party headed by Orly Levy, the daughter of the Mizrahi former Likud minister David Lavie. Such a move would also improve the Gantz appeal with Mizrahi voters who tend to vote Likud. Other party amalgamations are also being discussed in one of the most hectic Israeli elections ever.


 

Political Analyst David Essing

 



David Essing

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