Former IDF chiefs Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi announced Thursday night that they are setting up a new cultural movement, along with former Yesh Atid education minister and MK Shai Piron. The two stressed that the new movement, named “Pnima” (which translates as “inside” or “within”), is apolitical and does not seek to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
“This is not a political movement, which has no aim of toppling anyone, and certainly not Netanyahu. Its objective is to set an agenda of hope and not fear, when the seeds of fear are being sown in all directions,” Piron, who is also a rabbi, told Channel 2 news.
Ashkenazi and immediate IDF successor Gantz met at Piron’s home Thursday night with prominent political activists from across the spectrum.
According to Haaretz, which called Pnima an “educational-social organization,” the new movement is trying to unite secular and religious Israelis around common ground.
Gantz on Tuesday discussed his potential entry into politics during a meeting with students in Beersheba. His term as head of the Israeli military ended in February, and by law former high-ranking officers must go through a three-year “cooling-off period” before entering politics.
“I don’t think I’m the savior of Israel, and I don’t think that there are no good people in Israeli society. I have not made a decision on whether or not to go into politics,” Gantz told the students, Channel 2 reported.
The former army chief did, however, criticize the current political leadership. “There is a difference between leading and being first,” he said. “In my opinion, a change in Israeli society will come from the bottom up, and not from the top down.”
Gantz said Friday, furthermore, that Israel is not currently facing any existential threats, but warned that a nuclear-armed Iran or Islamic State in the possession of biological or chemical weapons could potentially change this equation.
“There has to be a total victory over IS to the point of its elimination,” Gantz also told students in Haifa, according to the Ynet news website. “It is the sort of ideology and the sort of organization whose existence the free world cannot countenance. There has to be a ground war, even one by international forces, but we must ensure that the local coalitions in the Middle East take care [to guarantee] that this phenomenon does not reemerge.”
A Channel 2 poll in November 2015 found that Gantz would defeat Netanyahu in a race for the prime ministership. Gantz was a far more popular choice than Netanyahu for PM when not identified with any particular political party, the survey found, and narrowly beat Netanyahu at the head of a center-left party.
There is a long tradition of Israeli military leaders entering politics. Former Labor prime ministers Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin both served in the role, as did former defense ministers Moshe Dayan, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon. Another former army chief, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, once served as tourism and transportation minister.