Gantz: Israel must not sell arms to genocidal regimes or back racist leaders

Speaking at ADL conference, Blue and White leader says of attempts to form government: ‘Unity is not a bloc in which everyone thinks as one and labors for one man’

Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz speaks at the ADL's Israel Social Cohesion conference in Airport City near Tel Aviv on November 5, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)
Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz speaks at the ADL's Israel Social Cohesion conference in Airport City near Tel Aviv on November 5, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

Israel must not support racist regimes or sell weapons to nations involved in genocidal actions, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz declared Tuesday.

Speaking at the Anti-Defamation League’s third annual Israel Social Cohesion Summit at the Airport City industrial zone near Ben Gurion Airport, Gantz, who is currently attempting to form a coalition governement, said Israel “must ensure that we are not legitimizing racist regimes.”

It was not clear who specifically Gantz was referring to, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of cozying up to leaders with questionable human rights records, such as Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Gantz also said Israeli weapons must not be sold “to nations carrying out genocides. We are a moral people, a moral nation, and we must act that way both inside toward each other and in our foreign relations.”

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem during Duterte’s official visit to Israel, September 3, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/Pool)

Israel has been accused of selling weapons and military services to human rights violators around the world for decades, including to apartheid South Africa, Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, and in recent years to South Sudan and Myanmar. The Defense Ministry does not acknowledge arms sales as a matter of policy.

The Blue and White leader also lamented the ongoing political gridlock following the September election, the year’s second national vote, and the dimming prospects of a unity government being formed, painting Netanyahu’s insistence on negotiating only as part of a bloc of right-wing parties as a major stumbling block to forming a joint government.

“Unity is not a bloc in which everyone thinks as one and labors for one man,” he said of the 55 MKs who have declared they will only support Netanyahu as prime minister.

“Unity exists when all sides set aside their personal interests and act together for the future of the nation, for all our futures.”

He went on: “In the last election most Israelis chose unity, while there are those who are occupied with their personal and legal interests. I’m doing everything, both above and below the surface, to make that choice a reality and to prevent another election that will serve disunity.”

Gantz asserted that “80 percent of us Israelis agree on 80% of issues, and the rest can be argued,” but he warned that “Israel mustn’t be dragged to another election” in which billions of shekels would be “tossed into the trash.”

Blue and White, along with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, has sought to form a secularist unity government that is not dependent on ultra-Orthodox parties. The ultra-Orthodox monopoly on religious institutions has increasingly upset secular Israelis in recent years, while also causing a growing rift with Diaspora Jewry.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman at a faction meeting at Neve Ilan west of Jerusalem, September 22, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Gantz noted that world Jews “have felt in recent years that Israel is moving away from them, particularly from the younger generation,” and said such trends must be turned around.

He also warned that the ongoing political instability and internal rivalries behind it were weakening Israel in the face of security challenges.

President Reuven Rivlin last month tasked Gantz with attempting to form a coalition after Netanyahu failed in the wake of the September elections, but Gantz’s chances of succeeding where Netanyahu failed are seen as just as slim.

In recent days speculation has focused on the three-person New Right faction possibly breaking with Netanyahu’s bloc of 55. New Right party leader Naftali Bennett on Sunday warned that the right-wing bloc would suffer a “historic collapse” if a third election is called.

Blue and White leaders have claimed the premier’s bloc is preventing them from forming a government. Netanyahu has insisted on negotiating on behalf of all 55 MKs; Blue and White has said the stance is a transparent ruse to ensure Gantz cannot form a government, dooming Israel to yet another election.

Negotiations between Likud and Gantz’s party have also snagged over Blue and White’s insistence it cannot support a Netanyahu premiership so long as he is suspected in three criminal cases — and may be charged in them soon.

New Right party leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Expo Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Meanwhile Liberman on Tuesday denied media reports he may consider abandoning his vows not to join a narrow right-wing government in order to avoid a third election.

On Monday, Channel 12 news reported that Liberman was preparing to begin several days of consultations with senior party officials ahead of making what the station described as a “final decision” regarding the ongoing political deadlock.

“This morning I heard and read a load of nonsense from journalists in various media outlets concerning actions Yisrael Beytenu is allegedly planning: compromises on matters of religion and state, joining one bloc or another etc,” Liberman tweeted. “These reports are baseless and generated solely by the writers and pundits.”

A survey released Sunday showed a majority of Israelis would endorse the party they voted for in the last election joining a coalition led by Blue and White.

According to the poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 62% of Israelis favor the party that they voted for joining a coalition under Gantz. Among them, nearly half of right-wing voters support such a move.

The survey found that 48% of Likud voters approve and so do 49% of the erstwhile Yamina party, which has split into several factions following the vote.

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