Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz on Tuesday launched a scathing personal attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, depicting him as an American-trained fake who spent years enjoying the high-life in the United States while he, Gantz, was risking his life in the trenches with Israel’s soldiers.
Gantz played on his own long military career, which culminated in his tenure as IDF chief of staff, while castigating Netanyahu for spending years in America — where the prime minister studied at university, worked, and later represented Israel diplomatically — portraying the prime minister as only partly Israeli.
“When I lay in the muddy trenches with my soldiers on frozen winter nights, you left Israel to learn English and practice it at fancy cocktail parties,” Gantz said.
Netanyahu immediately condemned Gantz’s comments as shameful, noting that as a soldier and officer in the IDF’s most elite unit, “I risked my life time after time for the country.”
“I appreciate your contribution to the State of Israel, but I know your weaknesses well,” Gantz said, looking directly into the camera as though addressing the prime minister. “In the days when I commanded the [elite commando] Shaldag unit on dangerous operations in enemy countries, you, Benjamin Netanyahu, bravely and determinedly made your way through the make up rooms of television studios.
“At a time when I trained generations of commanders and fighters, you were taking acting lessons in a New York studio,” Gantz added bitterly.
“In another month and a half we will all go and choose between a ruler who has English from Boston, heavy makeup and expensive suits, and a real, caring Israeli leader, who is not fake, and not kingly,” Gantz declared, in a speech that contrasted sharply with the milder comments he made last month at the launch of his election campaign.
“In the past decade, Israel has been ruled by one ruling party. In the ruling party, a single ruler was in charge,” Gantz said. “He had no internal opposition and no external opposition. For a decade, the citizens of Israel were forced to choose between one ruling party and one ruler and a series of niche parties that did not threaten him. He ruled the country through incitement, deception and fear. No more. This time it’s different. The single ruler is currently stressed, afraid, sweating. His jesters are no longer laughing and his party is frightened.”
As he spoke, several supporters in the crowd chanted, “Bibi go home,” using the prime minister’s nickname.
“For the first time in ten years,” Gantz asserted, “both the ruler and his henchmen understand that this time a new ruling party is facing them.”
“For ten years there was a patronizing and divisive government here that did not feel the need to make an effort for the citizens of the country in general, and specifically for those who did not choose,” Gantz went on. “It indulged in the pleasures of power, corruption and hedonism. The concern for citizens was replaced by an agenda of hatred. While the people showed loyalty to it, it showed no loyalty to the people.”
Gantz claimed that the Netanyahu-led coalition “has forgotten the people. It forgot that in the wars of Israel there is no right and no left, and that the military cemeteries are not divided into left and right. It has forgotten the real point: a true government loves its citizens and is not in love with itself.”
Gantz then went on to slam Netanyahu’s assaults on the press, the attorney general, and the police, all of whom the prime minister has accused of being behind three graft investigations against him, which are reportedly expected to lead to some indictments.
“In order to destroy any chance of replacing the regime, a dangerous discourse of labeling people based on their loyalty to the individual ruler has developed,” charged Gantz. “Those who did not kneel were marked as traitors. Any right-winger who dared to criticize was immediately labeled as a dangerous leftist. A legal adviser appointed by the ruler became a traitor and a leftist when he did not do what the ruler expected him to do. The police commissioner appointed by the ruler was called a leftist and traitor because he dared to be loyal to the laws of the state and not to the demands of the ruler.”
Netanyahu quickly responded to Gantz’s blistering attack against him, saying in a statement “Benny Gantz, shame on you.”
“As a soldier and officer in [elite unit] Sayeret Matkal I risked my life time after time for the country,” the prime minister said. “I was wounded in battle with terrorists. I almost lost my life in a shootout in the Suez Canal for the security of the state you want to endanger with unilateral withdrawals and support for the dangerous Iran nuclear deal.”
“The citizens of Israel will choose between a strong right-wing government headed by me and a weak left-wing government headed by you,” Netanyahu concluded.
Gantz is seen as the most realistic challenger to Netanyahu in the April 9 elections, although Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party are still expected to have the best chance of forming a working coalition.
Earlier in the day Israel Resilience published its election slate. Parties have until a Thursday deadline to finalize their candidates.