Idea of PM continuing to serve if indicted is 'ridiculous'

Launching bid to replace Netanyahu, Gantz vows to unify Israel, end incitement

Former army head gives maiden campaign address before raucous crowd, says he will seek peace, keep Jerusalem united, get rid of corruption; confirms union with Ya’alon

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz delivers his first electoral speech in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz delivers his first electoral speech in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz officially kicked off his nascent political career Tuesday, vowing to unite the country and end the “kingship” of the current prime minister, and rejecting the idea of Benjamin Netanyahu continuing to lead if indicted for corruption.

Speaking before a boisterous crowd at the Tel Aviv launch of the election campaign for his Israel Resilience party Tuesday evening, Gantz set out his political views after a long-held silence and announced an electoral alliance with fellow former head of the military Moshe Ya’alon. (Full text of Gantz’s speech.)

He said the time had come for Israel to have new leadership, dedicated to creating “a united, unified, cohesive society” and accused what he called “the current regime” of fomenting “incitement, subversion and hatred.”

“The basic values of Israeli statehood have been converted into the mannerisms of a French royal house,” he asserted. “Instead of serving the people, the government looms over the people and finds the people to be a bore.”

Gantz put forward a laundry list of positions: backing settlement blocs, striving for peace, improving education and the health service, ensuring that the burden of national service was fairly shared, and seeking to resolve conflicts over religious observance.

But his focus was on what he called the “bad wind” blowing in Israel, and “the major course of restoration” required to heal the country, taking particular aim at the prime minister in the context of the corruption allegations swirling around him.

“The national government we will establish will show zero tolerance for corruption of any kind,” he vowed and, speaking personally, noted pointedly: “I have always kept my hands clean. I owe nothing to anyone but my people. I will neither support nor will I close my eyes in the face of any violation of moral standards.”

While not explicitly ruling out sitting in a government under Netanyahu, Gantz made clear he intended to replace him. He also said he would not back Netanyahu continuing to serve as prime minister should he be re-elected and an indictment be filed against him.

“The idea that a prime minister can serve who has an indictment against him seems ridiculous to me. It won’t happen,” Gantz said.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (C) is greeted by supporters as he arrives to give his first electoral speech in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to announce whether he will indict Netanyahu on corruption charges ahead of elections on April 9, pending a hearing. It could be several months until actual charges are filed, if at all, and Gantz’s statement left open the door for joining a government led by Netanyahu in the interim.

Without directly naming the prime minister, Gantz laid into Netanyahu and his allies over their criticism of law enforcement and media, while vowing he would bring a different style of leadership.

“My government will have statesmanship, not kingship,” he said, in apparent reference to Netanyahu’s moniker King Bibi.

“In the government there won’t be wild attacks on the chief of staff, head of police and attorney general,” Gantz said.

“There won’t be incitement against the judiciary, cultural institutions and the media. We won’t incite hatred against half a nation on the right or half a nation on the left. The days when bereaved families are used for political purposes are over,” he added.

He “thanked Netanyahu” for his time as prime minister. “We’ll take it from here,” he quipped dryly.

Gantz is seen as the strongest challenger to Netanyahu in years, with surveys showing many Israelis see him as suitable prime minister, and polls positioning him as a possible leader of a centrist or center-left bloc.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (center) and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (right) in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Gantz pointed to his long military career as his qualification to lead Israel and said he would pursue a defense policy of action, not talk.

“In the hard Middle East around us, no one pities the weak, and only the strong survive,” he said, repeating one of his campaign slogans.

He also said Israel would not stand by in the face of a threat to its sovereignty by Iran and its proxies.

“The heads of the terror groups must know that Ahmed Jabari wasn’t the first and doesn’t have to be the last,” he said, referring to the former head of Hamas’s military wing who was killed by Israel in Gaza during Gantz’s tenure as IDF chief.

Gantz stressed, however, that he would try to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“I know that we need something different, we can have something different. A government I lead will seek peace and won’t miss an opportunity for a regional change,” he said.

But if such an opportunity does not appear, Gantz said, “we will create a new reality.”

“We will fortify Israel’s position as a democratic state, strengthen the settlement blocs and Golan [Heights], where we won’t leave ever. The Jordan Valley will be our border, but we won’t let millions of Palestinians living beyond the fence endanger our identity as a Jewish state,” he said.

As for Jerusalem, he said: “United Jerusalem will be built, will grow – and will remain forever the capital of the Jewish people and the capital of the State of Israel.”

Benny Gantz (R) and Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon (L) at a campaign event for the former’s Israel Resilience party in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

At the end of his remarks, Gantz formally announced the establishment of a political alliance with Ya’alon, who was defense minister for part of the time he was chief of staff.

“Bogie Ya’alon is a security man, an ethical person. He was once my commander, my boss. From now, he’s a central partner on this path. Together, we have placed the less important things on the side, and put Israel before anything else,” he said, adding he hoped there would be more alliances to come.

Ya’alon, for his part, said the two would work to “put the country back on track.”

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