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Ex-justice minister says Gantz agreed to ‘insane’ Likud demands behind his back

After quitting Blue and White, Nissenkorn claims party chief agreed to undermine democracy to save coalition; says he floated possible joint run with hard-right Yamina party

Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, left, and Minister of Justice Avi Nissenkorn visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, left, and Minister of Justice Avi Nissenkorn visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn heavily criticized his erstwhile ally Benny Gantz Friday, days after quitting the Blue and White party and his cabinet post, accusing him of managing talks behind his back with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would “severely harm the rule of law” and void the justice minister’s powers.

In a Facebook post, Nissenkorn laid into Gantz’s recent conduct as the latter attempted to salvage the coalition with Netanyahu in recent weeks — an effort that ultimately failed, with the government collapsing and new elections being called for March.

“Some two weeks ago I discovered that that behind my back negotiations were being held between Gantz and Netanyahu to void the authorities of the justice minister and severely harm the rule of law,” he wrote.

The potential agreements between the parties “were no less than insane,” Nissenkorn said. “It would have politicized the selection process of the state attorney and attorney general and allowed Netanyahu’s emissaries a veto in appointing Supreme Court justices, a loophole that would have superseded the powers of the justice minister.”

“The very negotiation over the safeguards [of democracy] undermines basic democratic principles, as well the values for which we were elected to serve the people of Israel,” he said.

Gantz’s main appeal to voters throughout three election campaigns over the past two years had been his promise not to sit under Netanyahu in government. When he broke this vow last year, he said he was doing so in order to protect democratic institutions from within.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“I opposed the move and along with several other colleagues in the faction we prevented the horrible deal,” he said. “I will not apologize for this. On the contrary — those who concocted the deal should be giving explanations to the public.”

In a conversation days before his decision to quit the party, Nissenkorn said Gantz told him he was considering a joint run with hard-right Yamina in the next election.

He said he informed the party leader that he “felt Blue and White was moving further and further away from my world view.”

Nissenkorn said he still valued Gantz personally and appreciated their shared time together in politics, but that his conscience no longer allowed him to remain a part of the party.

Nissenkorn has joined with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party, The Israelis, and will run for the Knesset on that platform in the next election.

Meanwhile, Gantz’s party is crashing in polls and only barely passing the electoral threshold in the next election, amid an exodus of the party’s top leadership including Gantz’s top ally, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Gantz became acting justice minister after Nissenkorn’s resignation, in addition to his position as defense minister.

On Friday he spoke with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit as he entered the post, telling them: “As I have protected the judiciary and democracy so far, I will continue to guard it with all vigilance. I will make sure that your activities remain continuous. You will receive all the support needed to fulfill your role fearlessly and impartially.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, left, and former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn, December 29, 2020. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Despite reported calls from within his party to step down, Gantz announced Tuesday night that he will continue to lead the ailing Blue and White in the upcoming elections in March, claiming the party “saved the country” and set the course for the end of Netanyahu’s rule.

Gantz castigated Netanyahu, saying he caused the new election and would ultimately pay for it.

“The upcoming elections, which Netanyahu arrogantly dragged us into, are the last thing the people of Israel need now,” Gantz said. “There was not one minute in this government when Netanyahu viewed us as partners or acted for the country’s benefit.”

“The light at the end of the tunnel that awaits us all in the upcoming election campaign is that in the end, Netanyahu will free the country from his clutches. He will no longer be able to sacrifice the future of Israel for his personal, legal, and political future,” Gantz said, predicting the prime minister’s downfall.

Blue and White’s “great achievement” will be “the ending of Netanyahu’s political path,” Gantz said.

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