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Gantz calls on opposition parties to join ‘struggle for the character of the state’

Concerned over potential damage to democracy, National Unity chair sets up ‘action forum’ to fight incoming government’s plans: ‘We will not be silent’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz gives a press conference in Tel Aviv, November 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz gives a press conference in Tel Aviv, November 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Sunday the establishment of an organization to combat the expected incoming government’s policy agenda, citing fears that the prospective coalition will harm the democratic character of the state.

Gantz urged those who oppose the incoming right-wing religious government to join the new group, The Struggle for the Character of the State, and added that he invited future opposition party chairs to set up the forum alongside him.

“I see the emerging reality in the coalition agreements in terms of damage to democratic values, and I think that it’s important to establish an action forum that will begin to think of combined parliamentary, public, and media moves,” he wrote.

“We will not be silent. We will fight together for the character of the state, in education, the judicial system, and the IDF,” Gantz said, posting a signup link for the forum.

Detailed information on the activities and the precise nature of the group were not immediately available on the site.

The National Unity chair’s move comes in the wake of a series of demands by the far-right and religious parties expected to join Likud in the next government, including to drastically weaken the independence of the judicial system, and an agreement to transfer authority over some content at Israeli schools to anti-LGBT lawmaker Avi Maoz.

MK Avi Maoz, left, and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu after signing a coalition deal on November 27, 2022. (Courtesy, Likud)

Last week also saw attacks by far-right lawmakers, particularly Otzma Yehudit chair Itamar Ben Gvir, against an IDF officer who punished a soldier filmed taunting left-wing activists in Hebron.

Already on Sunday, Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Wasserlauf submitted a bill to the Knesset that would transform the Judicial Selection Committee, tipping the balance between the judiciary and legislature by putting ultimate power over the appointment of Israel’s judges in the hands of politicians.

Opposition to the projected coalition’s agenda picked up last week, when more than 50 municipalities said they would not allow Maoz to dictate their educational curricula and 200 school principals penned a letter to Netanyahu in protest of the Noam party chair’s planned role in the future government.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Saturday announced the launch of a hotline for parents opposed to “the extreme and dangerous content” of Maoz to contact local authorities and schools to ensure “liberal content” is taught in place of Noam’s “backward, homophobic, nationalistic and violent doctrine.”

In this handout photo, Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a memorial event for David Ben Gurion at Sde Boker in southern Israel, November 30, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Meanwhile, National Unity MK and former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot called for mass protests against Netanyahu if he enacts the expected coalition’s controversial plans.

“If Netanyahu harms the national interests of the State of Israel, if he harms Israeli democracy, state education, and the Israel Defense Forces’ status as the national army — the way to deal with this is to get a million people onto the streets,” Eisenkot told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in an interview over the weekend.

Netanyahu has given several interviews over the past few weeks to the international press, vowing to reign in his far-right partners. On Sunday, he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he would not allow harm to come to LGBT rights in Israel.

“I just won’t accept any of that. It’s not something I’m saying now — I have a record now and a record in general of having two hands on the wheel… I ultimately decide policy,” Netanyahu said when asked about Maoz.

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