The Blue and White party’s No. 2, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, is set to announce in the coming days that he is leaving the party and will likely take a break from politics, Hebrew media reports said Tuesday.
Ashkenazi will declare that he is not running in the coming March elections by Wednesday, according to Channel 12 news and Haaretz.
The reports came hours after Gantz fired his Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who earlier in the day delivered a blow to Blue and White’s election campaign by announcing he was leaving the party to join a rival center-left movement being set up by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai. Huldai’s party was set to kick off his campaign on Tuesday night.
Also Tuesday, Gantz will give a press conference in which he is expected to declare he’ll head Blue and White in the March 23 elections despite the party’s plummeting poll numbers and internal grumbling over his leadership.
Haaretz reported that Ashkenazi decided to leave due to Blue and White’s poor ratings in polls and tensions with Gantz over his style of leadership.
In light of the party’s dramatic fall from political grace, Ashkenazi was expecting Gantz to hand over the leadership of the party to him and decided to leave when it became clear Gantz was staying on, the report said.
Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff, began his political career in 2019 when he played a key role in forming the Blue and White alliance, earning him a top slot on the party’s slate.
Since taking office as Israel’s top diplomat, Ashkenazi has watched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads the Likud party, unveil a series of four normalization agreements with Arab states, the details of which he reportedly was not privy to until they were announced.
A growing list of incumbent Blue and White lawmakers have announced they won’t run with the party in the upcoming elections.
Earlier Tuesday, MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh said she won’t run as a candidate for Blue and White in the elections. On Sunday, Gantz informed MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich that they will not be included on the party’s electoral slate due to their decision to vote against extending the state budget deadline last week, ultimately causing the fall of the government. Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay has also decided to leave, according to Channel 12 news.
A large number of other lawmakers in the party are also looking elsewhere, according to TV reports, inquiring into the possibility of joining parties across the political spectrum, from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in the center to Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina on the right, though it is unclear whether any of these three parties is interested in taking them.
Gantz entered politics two years ago, vowing to replace Netanyahu, then merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud. While Gantz campaigned on the promise that he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, he 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 broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition.
Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.
Israel is consequently now gearing up for a fourth election after the Knesset dissolved last week, but polls have made clear that Gantz has lost the support of almost all of the voters who got behind him in the past three elections.