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Gantz: They're shooting me in the back

130 former top defense officials call on Gantz to pull out of election

Senior officers, security figures publish open letter to Blue and White chief, whose party is polling below Knesset threshold, urging him to avoid a waste of anti-Netanyahu votes

An election poster showing Blue and White party Benny Gantz, posted alongside the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
An election poster showing Blue and White party Benny Gantz, posted alongside the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A collection of 130 former army commanders and senior officials in the defense establishment on Monday published an open letter to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz calling on him to pull out of next month’s elections, as his party could waste votes for a potential leadership change by failing to clear the Knesset threshold.

Gantz responded by rejecting the call and vowing to continue his campaign.

“The time has come to make a final leader-like decision and retire from this dangerous campaign, which will end below the threshold and leave another party outside [the Knesset],” said the letter, published in major print newspapers and addressed to Gantz, the defense minister and former army chief.

Among those who put their names to the letter were former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, former IDF chief and prime minister Ehud Barak, former National Security Council chief Uzi Arad and former Mossad leader Danny Yatom.

The letter stressed the need to do everything possible to bolster efforts to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warned that Gantz’s party would sap votes if it failed to win enough support to enter the Knesset, a possibility predicted in recent opinion polls.

“At the moment, it is clear as daylight that it is not the virus but rather the one who is criminally indicted who is endangering the life of his people to save his own life and his own rule,” it said, in reference to Netanyahu’s criminal trial.

“At the moment, the order of the day requires another brave decision,” the letter said. “Don’t lend a hand to wasting the votes of the camp for change… Israel will salute you.

“Truly put country before everything,” it said, referencing Gantz’s election slogan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Yonatan Sindel, David Cohen/Flash90)

Speaking at a conference organized by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and the Ynet website, Gantz later rejected the letter.

Using military terms, the former IDF chief said of those behind the call that “instead of helping or providing cover fire at the objective they are shooting me in the back.”

“I am keeping to the objective and continue to charge forward,” Gantz said, asserting he was preserving Israel’s democracy by remaining in the government to counter Netanyahu who, he claimed, would otherwise make it “a de facto dictatorship.”

The letter was published the day after a poll predicted Blue and White would fail to make it into the Knesset in the next elections, while Naftali Bennett’s Yamina continued to hold the balance of power.

The numbers published Sunday by Kan News were based on a weighted aggregate of all current polls, analyzed by the Hamadad website. No margin of error was given.

According to the results as of February 21, just over a month before Israel’s fourth election in two years, Netanyahu’s Likud party would get 30 seats, down from its current 36 seats.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid was predicted to get 18; Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, 14; Yamina, 12; the Joint List, 9; Shas, 8; United Torah Judaism, 7; Yisrael Betyenu, 7; Labor, 6; Religious Zionism, 5; and Meretz, 4.

Both Blue and White and the Islamist Ra’am, which recently split from the joint list, failed to cross the election threshold in the survey.

While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the months leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.

Previous surveys have generally predicted political deadlock after the election, with no party having a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.

The predictions carry a remarkable rebuke for Gantz who was running neck and neck with Netanyahu in the last elections but lost public trust by backtracking on his vow to never sit with Netanyahu.

After the last election, the two formed a unity government.

Netanyahu is widely believed to have deliberately thwarted the passage of a state budget last year in order to trigger elections and prevent the implementation of a power-sharing deal that would have seen Gantz succeed him as prime minister later this year.

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