Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said Saturday that he opposed another round of premature elections amid fierce disagreements between his Blue and White party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud over the state budget, and that should he emerge from this coalition government as a “political sucker, so be it.”
Gantz sat down for a lengthy and, at times, combative interview with Channel 12’s Dana Weiss, reacting in frustration at her suggestions that he was out of his depth and being outmaneuvered by Netanyahu at every turn. According to their coalition deal, Gantz is set to become PM in November 2021 as part of the power-sharing agreement between his party and Netanyahu’s, but Israel’s longest-serving premier is said to be seeking ways to avoid having to hand over the post, including by triggering new elections.
Telling Gantz he looked “disappointed by the situation we are in,” Weiss said that “everything that people warned you about is happening. You were told that Benjamin Netanyahu can’t be trusted… You were told that at the first opportunity he’ll have, he’ll call for elections… that he’ll always be four steps ahead [of you]. All of these things have happened.”
“I can’t be disappointed,” Gantz responded. “I can be in an undesirable political situation. You can say, as a politician ‘you were duped here, you were duped there,’ but I ask myself… what is really important: that one day it’ll say ‘he was duped’ on my tombstone or will it say ‘he did for his people [what he could]?’
The State of Israel, he said, “deserves a leader with good intentions and good acts.”
Gantz indicated that the needs of the country come before his own political interests but that he was not under the same pressures as the premier with a graft trial hanging over his head.
“I think he cares about the country,” Gantz said of Netanyahu, adding that he thinks the two parties work together better than how it appears.
Nevertheless, another round of elections “can always occur,” Gantz said. It would be “a bad thing for Israel and I will do everything to avoid another round at the polls.” He said he hoped Netanyahu felt the same.
When pressed on Blue and White’s support of a bill banning gay conversion therapy by psychotherapists, in defiance of the coalition’s position, and which garnered accusations of “breach of trust” by the Likud, the defense minister and would-be prime minister appeared agitated. “I entered into this partnership [coalition agreement with Netanyahu] for the State of Israel and when, occasionally, there will be issues that are close to a red line — whether it’s a legal issue, or civil rights, or freedom — and it brings me to a point where…I have to pay a political price, so be it,” he said.
“What do I have left to do but to do good for the country?… What’s important is what happens here, how it happens. I will commit myself fully, and if I emerge from this a political sucker, so be it,” Gantz said.
He has every intention of serving as prime minister, however, he indicated.
Should there be more elections, “people will have to vote how they see fit,” Gantz said, acknowledging the disappointment of some Blue and White voters when he signed the coalition deal with Netanyahu. “We will continue to do what we think is needed for this country. I’m telling you now, [if there’s] a choice between politics and country, the choice will be country.”
For Netanyahu, “I’m not sure it’s in that order,” Gantz said.
According to a survey aired on Channel 12 ahead of the interview, 63 percent of Israelis said they believe the Blue and White party headed by Gantz is no alternative to Netanyahu and 65% said Gantz’s entry into a coalition agreement was a mistake.
The poll was conducted by Midgam and iPanel with 503 respondents over the phone and on the internet, and had a margin of error of 4.4%.
A majority of the respondents, 74%, said they felt Gantz had little to no influence on government decisions.