Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz on Thursday ridiculed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s globe-trotting meetings with foreign leaders ahead of the elections as a diversion meant to mislead the public, and asserted that those he meets act out of their own interests, not because of Netanyahu’s influence.
“Benjamin Netanyahu’s travels, running from place to place, are throwing dust in the eyes of people,” Gantz told a conference organized by the Channel 12 television station.
Gantz’s remarks came after Netanyahu set off earlier in the day for a brief visit to London. The announcement of the trip by his office, just a day in advance, came days after Netanyahu canceled a visit to India, a move that spurred rumors of the Israeli leader eyeing a different high-profile trip to boost his electoral prospects ahead of the national vote later this month.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of three foreign statesmen — together with US President Donald Trump and Putin — who appear on huge campaign posters outside the Likud party’s Tel Aviv headquarters.
“What Putin does is because of his interests and those of Russia and not because of Netanyahu,” Gantz asserted. “What Trump is doing is because of his interests and those of the US and not because of Netanyahu.”
“I suggest that [Netanyahu] — instead of going to London — go to Kiryat Shmona where the people bore him,” Gantz continued, referring to an incident last October when Netanyahu told a woman who heckled him in the northern border town that she was “boring.”
The Blue and White chief, whose centrist party has been polling neck and neck with Netanyahu’s Likud in the election race, went on to accuse new State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman of being Netanyahu’s man.
“The state comptroller works for Benjamin Netanyahu,” Gantz declared, charging Englman with making “a serious” error when he approved Netanyahu’s request to accept funding from a wealthy acquaintance to pay toward his legal defense in three corruption cases.
Englman, appointed by the Knesset in June with Netanyahu’s backing, on Wednesday overturned a decision by the State Comptroller’s own Permits Committee which — under Englman’s predecessor — had three times ruled against allowing Netanyahu to receive the funding from American businessman Spencer Partridge.
“He created a situation that made the Permits Committee pointless,” Gantz said.
Gantz also attacked Netanyahu over his efforts to see the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party either merge with larger nationalist parties or drop out of the running in order to prevent votes for the party being wasted if it doesn’t clear the Knesset minimum threshold.
“Otzma Yehudit is a racist party, and these are [the people] Netanyahu is trying to bring into the Holy of Holies in Israel. It serves only one thing — his own interests, so that he can continue to travel,” Gantz said.
Likud responded in a statement that “Gantz’s attack against a senior gatekeeper such as the state comptroller crosses a red line.
“The left, which always cries out against abuse of gatekeepers, suddenly permits any unbridled attack, thereby revealing its hypocrisy,” the party said.
“The only government that Gantz can set up is a leftist-Arab government; he has no other government because Likud will not sit with him,” the statement said. “Only if Likud is the largest party will a right-wing government be set up.
“The applause for Gantz at the Channel 12 Influencers Conference only proves once again that this is a political conference against Netanyahu,” Likud continued. “It turns out that not only the speakers are from the left, but also the audience. What else can be expected from a conference organized by a propaganda channel?”
Netanyahu has regularly slammed Channel 12 for its extensive coverage of the cases he is a suspect in, calling it a “propaganda channel” for airing testimony from police questioning of witnesses in the cases.
Polls have predicted that a Netanyahu-led right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc could win up to 56 seats compared to just 44 seats for a center-left bloc led by Gantz. The remaining 20 seats are expected to be roughly evenly divided between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and an Arab Israeli political alliance, the Joint List. Gantz has ruled out forming a coalition with the Joint List.
Likud is striving to reach a 61-seat majority without relying on Yisrael Beytenu, its former political partner, which refused to join a Netanyahu-led coalition following the April vote, leading to the calling of fresh elections. Yisrael Beytenu is now insisting it won’t serve in a Likud government that does not also include Blue and White.