Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi announced on Wednesday that he was taking a break from politics and leaving Blue and White, in the latest high-profile defection from Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s ailing party.
Ashkenazi, the No. 2 in Blue and White, told Gantz this week that he won’t run on the party’s slate in the March 23 elections, according to a statement.
“I do not intend to run in the next election in Blue and White and I’m taking time off and considering how to proceed,” Ashkenazi said.
He hailed Blue and White for “presenting a governing alternative” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “changing the discourse” on annexing West Bank lands, which, he asserted, “opened up the window of opportunity for the peace deals [with Arab nations].”
He also said the party had “prevented any attempt at diplomatic and judicial adventurism” since joining the government.
Ashkenazi said he will remain in his post as foreign minister for as long as Gantz wants him there.
“I thank my friend and partner Benny Gantz and I wished him success in leading the party in the upcoming elections,” Ashkenazi said.
Ashkenazi, who preceded Gantz as IDF chief of staff, entered politics ahead of the April 2019 elections, joining the nascent Blue and White alliance of centrist parties.
He stuck with Gantz after the Blue and White leader decided to form a coalition with Netanyahu following the previous elections this March, leading to the breakup of the party’s alliance with Yesh Atid-Telem, and became foreign minister in May when the government was sworn in.
His decision to leave the party came a day after Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn bolted Blue and White for Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party. Nissenkorn, who was the No. 3 in Blue and White, announced his resignation as justice minister earlier Wednesday.
Blue and White has seen an exodus of lawmakers since the Knesset dissolved last week over the failure to pass a new budget, as the party flails in the polls and Gantz faces questions over his leadership.
Along with Ashkenazi and 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 had “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 country.”
Gantz entered politics two years ago, vowing to replace Netanyahu, then merged his 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.