Dramatically stepping up his attacks on his rival days before the national election, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz furiously lashed out at Netanyahu on Wednesday, accusing him of “lying” and “inciting” against him and tearing at the fabric of Israeli society.
Gantz also flatly ruled out sitting in a coalition with Netanyahu after the March 2 race.
“Netanyahu, look me in the eyes. Your obsession with evading prosecution has driven you to lie, to tear us apart, to sow division… to spread malicious rumors and incitement,” Gantz charged in a dramatic speech five days before the March 2 election.
Gantz’s statement, delivered at the Kfar Maccabiah hotel in Ramat Gan and broadcast on national television, follows several days of Likud ads that have turned increasingly personal and nasty against the former army chief.
Likud has sought to portray Gantz as incapable of running the country — an incoherent stutterer suffering from mental health problems, as well as a failed businessman.
Netanyahu himself on Wednesday branded Gantz a coward for declining his challenge to a debate — something Netanyahu has steadfastly refused to do for a decade — and said Gantz “can barely get through a TV interview.”
The prime minister claimed that Iranian intelligence possessed compromising personal information on his opponent that rendered him vulnerable to “extortion” by Israel’s enemies. He added that Gantz, who served as the IDF’s top general for five years under him, lacked the basic skills necessary to lead and protect Israel.
“I’ve never exposed our sensitive and discreet talks, when I was Israel Defense Force chief and you were prime minister, and I won’t, and you know why,” Gantz said cryptically Wednesday, referring to their former working relationship.
“Netanyahu, you are poisoning Israel,” Gantz said, calling the new Likud campaign Netanyahu’s “classic style.”
He said Netanyahu was brazenly lying about purported compromising information or mental illness.
“Every opponent who runs against you faces this campaign of mud, starting two days before the election and magically disappearing two days afterward.”
He named former Likud opponents of Netanyahu, including Gideon Sa’ar, Silvan Shalom and the late prime minister Ariel Sharon.
“Just a year and a half ago, you asked me to join Likud and be your defense minister, and just two months ago you called for a partnership and offered me to be prime minister [in a rotation agreement].
“Netanyahu, you’ve lost it, and you aren’t worthy of being prime minister for one more day. I won’t sit with you [in a coalition],” Gantz vowed.
He accused Netanyahu of perpetrating “a hate crime against Israeli democracy and society” in running such campaigns of vilification.
Netanyahu’s Likud party responded quickly on Wednesday, mocking Gantz and advising him to calm down.
“Gantz seemed very nervous this evening. We advise him to calm down, drink a glass of water and come to a debate [with Netanyahu],” Likud said.
“Don’t whine and don’t act out. Politics are hard. The prime minister’s job is a lot harder. It looks like Gantz just isn’t up to it,” the statement said.
In an earlier interview Wednesday, for Channel 12 news, Gantz declared that “nothing is real” in the attempts to denigrate him — “not the dementia, not the stuttering…” He said Iran has nothing embarrassing on him, and that Netanyahu had “lost it.”
Netanyahu has also claimed that one of Gantz’s most popular party colleagues, Gabi Ashkenazi, has previously made horrible remarks about the Druze community, and repeated his long-term assertion, firmly denied by Gantz, that Blue and White would partner with the majority Arab Joint List if necessary to form a Knesset majority. Ashkenazi on Wednesday called Netanyahu’s allegations “despicable” and “lies,” and reminded Israelis that it was Netanyahu who passed the “nation-state law” in 2018, which many in the Druze community regard as having rendered them second-class citizens.
Gantz and Netanyahu appear set to repeat the deadlock of the April and September elections, with a poll published by the Walla news site Wednesday showed Blue and White pulling even with Likud at 34 seats apiece, but the right-wing and religious bloc led by Netanyahu having slightly more support — though not enough to form a ruling coalition in the Knesset.