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Bidding to foster unity, Gantz apologizes to Lapid for saying he ‘hates people’

Blue and White leader says what he and Yesh Atid chief have in common is more than what divides them; insists there is no reason to retire despite his party’s poor polling

Screen capture from video of Blue and White party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an interview with Channel 13 news, January 12, 2021. (Channel 13 news)
Screen capture from video of Blue and White party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an interview with Channel 13 news, January 12, 2021. (Channel 13 news)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has publicly apologized for remarks he made about his former political partner MK Yair Lapid, and again urged that the two reunite their Blue and White and Yesh Atid parties for a joint campaign in the coming March elections to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz expressed regret for having said earlier this month that Lapid, who leads the opposition, “hates people.”

“I am very sorry,” Gantz said during an interview with Channel 13 news Tuesday.

Looking into the camera to directly address Lapid, Gantz said, “I am sorry for what was said. What was said in the past belongs in the past, the future is unity.”

He maintained that what the two have in common is greater than what divides them but would not be drawn into saying whether he would agree to be Lapid’s No. 2 if they ran on a joint slate, despite having earlier in the day indicated that he would.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said after the interview that Gantz was busying himself with “small politics.”

Gantz also deflected suggestions that he step down as party leader in the face of polls that predicted Blue and White will get just four or five seats in the coming vote, down from the 14 it had before the Knesset dissolved last month over a failure by the unity government to pass a state budget.

Since then, nine of Blue and White’s lawmakers have left the party to join rival movements, were pushed out, or exited politics.

“There is no need for me to retire,” Gantz said and insisted Blue and White’s predicted five seats are a “strong stable base” that he believes will grow.

Yair Lapid (left) and Benny Gantz speak to supporters in Tel Aviv, on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The defense minister also told the station he doesn’t know if the US will launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities in the waning days of the Trump administration, an action reportedly considered by US President Donald Trump. But he added that even if he did know, he would not say anything on live television.

Channel 12 news reported earlier in the day that Gantz had reached out to all the parties that oppose Netanyahu and asked for a meeting on Tuesday evening but was snubbed.

During an interview Tuesday with Kan news Gantz had indicated he was willing to let Lapid lead an alliance of parties opposing Netanyahu. “Yair has come a very long way in Israeli politics and he can stand at the head of the [center-left] bloc. He has come a long way, and if that is what we decide then yes,” Gantz said.

Lapid has in the past said he would be open to a possible union with Gantz once more, but only if he himself leads the slate.

Gantz, who entered politics two years ago vowing to replace Netanyahu, merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White under his leadership, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud. While he campaigned on the promise that he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, Gantz agreed to do just that in late March, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May.

Furious, Yesh Atid and a second minor faction (Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem) broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition. Blue and White has watched its popularity plummet since, leading to a hemorrhaging of lawmakers who have left the party since elections were called last month.

On Monday, Gantz pleaded for an alliance of all who oppose the premier in order to boot him from office.

He urged Lapid, Ron Huldai (The Israelis), Ya’alon, Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Itzik Shmuli (Labor), and Yaron Zelekha (New Economic Party) to come to a meeting in order to “search for and find the way.”

Responding to the Monday announcement, Yesh Atid said it would “make every effort to form alliances that will lead to a sane, liberal government that will change the country.”

The March 23 elections will be the fourth round of voting in two years.

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