Ashkenazi to reportedly make statement on political future

Ex-IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot decides against running for Knesset

Retired general tells party leaders he won’t be entering politics now; Nissenkorn resigns as justice minister after leaving Blue and White to join Huldai

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks during a conference in Netanya on March 18, 2019. (Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks during a conference in Netanya on March 18, 2019. (Flash90)

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has decided not to run in the upcoming Knesset elections, Hebrew media reported Wednesday.

Eisenkot informed the party leaders with whom he’d been in touch with about joining their ranks of his decision.

While Eisenkot is eligible to be elected to the Knesset, he is barred from serving as a minister until 2022, due to legislation requiring a “cooling off” period for former senior officials.

The retired general was one of the most sought-after figures this election cycle and his name was linked in reports to several parties, including Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, Yesh Atid, Telem, New Right and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party, The Israelis.

Eisenkot, who was IDF chief of staff from 2015 to 2019 and now works for a number of think tanks, appeared to hint last week he was set to enter politics.

“I’m the former chief of staff who’s going to make the next mistake,” he said during an event hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute.

A long list of IDF chiefs of staff have gone on to political careers after leaving the military, most recently Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon.

Gadi Eisenkot and Benny Gantz are seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, February 16, 2015, as the former prepared to take over from the latter as IDF chief of staff. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Eisenkot’s decision to stay on the sidelines came as parties worked to put together their electoral slates before an early February deadline to finalize their candidates for the March 23 elections.

Before formally unveiling his new The Israelis party on Tuesday, Huldai announced that Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn was leaving Gantz’s Blue and White to team up with him.

Nissenkorn resigned as justice minister on Wednesday, after Gantz asked him to step down over his decision to leave Blue and White. Nissenkorn informed Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the move in separate letters.

In the letter to Netanyahu, Nissenkorn said he was resigning because Gantz asked him to and criticized the prime minister’s attacks on the legal system.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, December 29, 2020. (Screenshot: YouTube)

“The attack on the rule of law isn’t constructive criticism and not an ideological structure. This is the personal struggle of one man who seeks to tighten the stranglehold around the neck of the [legal] system in order to intimidate it for legal and personal considerations,” Nissenkorn wrote to Gantz, referring to Netanyahu’s criminal trial on corruption charges.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar of Likud called Nissenkorn’s resignation “ironic,” as Gantz reportedly resisted demands by Netanyahu’s party to sideline his justice minister as a condition for preserving their power-sharing agreement, which collapsed last week as the Knesset dissolved over the failure to pass a new budget.

Foriegn Minister Gabi Ashkenazi attends a plenary session at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon)

Also Wednesday, Ashkenazi told Gantz he was leaving Blue and White and didn’t intend to run in the elections, the Walla news site reported. A formal announcement was expected later in the day.

Blue and White has seen an exodus of lawmakers since the Knesset dissolved, as the party flails in the polls and Gantz faces questions over his leadership.

Along with Nissenkorn, MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh said Tuesday she would not 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.

In a defiant speech Tuesday, Gantz vowed to lead the ailing Blue and White in the elections in March, claiming the party “saved the country” and set the course for the end of Netanyahu’s rule.

“You’re welcome to leave, the door is open,” Gantz said to would-be future deserters. But “here a strong and cohesive group will remain and work hard, only for the state.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks at a press conference, December 29, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

Gantz entered politics two years ago, vowing to replace Netanyahu, then merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Telem and 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-Telem 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.

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