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Ashkenazi reportedly refuses to remain in party under Gantz

Gantz ousts rebel Blue and White MKs Zamir, Haimovich from party

Lawmakers who broke ranks and voted to dissolve the government last week, triggering elections, agree not to run on centrist list in upcoming vote

Knesset members Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich attend the ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, on May 7, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Knesset members Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich attend the ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, on May 7, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz has informed MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich that they will not be included on the party’s electoral slate for the March 2021 election due to their decision to vote against extending the budget deadline last week, ultimately causing the fall of the government.

Zamir and Haimovich were two of the three Blue and White MKs to vote against the budget extension, felling the bill by 49-47 votes. (The third was Ram Shefa.) Their votes set the course for the dissolution of the government a day later, triggering elections — the fourth in two years — which will be held on March 23.

“I do not regret the way I voted,” Zamir wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

“I thanked [Gantz] for the trust he has placed in me so far and I begged him to do everything necessary so that the center-left arrives united to the elections in a structure that will allow him to run for power,” said the former tourism minister, who quit the cabinet in protest in October, but remained in Gantz’s party.

Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz’s office said the decision was “mutual” and that the Blue and White leader “wished him well going forward.”

Haimovich later confirmed she met with Gantz and the two agreed to part ways.

“I met today with Benny Gantz and we agreed to end our political partnership and that I would not run on the Blue and White slate for the upcoming Knesset,” said Haimovich. “I fully stand by this decision.”

“My conscience is clear,” Haimovich added, saying she was “proud” to have voted against the coalition.

Miki Haimovich with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/File)

In resigning from the cabinet in October, Zamir cited the passage of controversial legislation to restrict protests during the coronavirus lockdown and asserted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was more concerned with his legal woes than the fight against COVID-19.

“I can no longer serve in a government in whose leader I haven’t an iota of faith,” Zamir wrote in a lengthy Facebook post at the time, in reference to Netanyahu.

The ouster of Zamir and Haimovich comes as Gantz mulls his political future, with officials in Blue and White reportedly giving him several more days to make a final decision on whether he intends to continue leading the party, merge with other parties, or quit politics altogether.

Meanwhile, Foreign minister and Blue and White No. 2, Gabi Ashkenazi, has reportedly refused to promise to the Blue and White leader that he will remain in the centrist-faction in the coming elections if the slate is headed by Gantz.

According to Channel 12 news, the two met on Sunday afternoon amid reports that Ashkenazi is seeking the leadership of the party.

Israelis wearing masks of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a protest in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Gantz, the defense minister and “alternate prime minister” in the outgoing government, called a press conference on Saturday night and then canceled it, according to the Kan public broadcaster. Senior officials in the party told Kan they were waiting patiently for Gantz’s next steps, but warned: “If Gantz doesn’t make a significant change, it [the party] won’t survive.”

A damning report by the “Uvda” investigative TV show on Thursday night further dented Gantz’s already waning support, suggesting the Blue and White leader kept his campaign advisers in the dark for months during the 2019 elections that his cellphone — containing highly personal information — had been hacked by Iran, but spoke openly about it to other confidants, with the information eventually getting to Netanyahu’s campaign and the media.

The report further said that Blue and White spent NIS 500,000 in public funds at the CGI intel firm to keep quiet on Gantz’s alleged extramarital affairs. It dropped heavy hints of an alleged sexual relationship between Gantz and two women, including the party’s Omer Yankelevich, but stopped short of saying it outright.

TV reports on Friday said Gantz remains committed to leading his nosediving party, though he may not have many colleagues with whom to run, as multiple members of the centrist alliance are planning to jump ship or quit politics as the slate hemorrhages support in the polls.

Alternate Prime Minister Defense Benny Gantz visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior lawmakers in the party, including Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay have decided that they will not remain with a Gantz-led Blue and White, Channel 12 reported. The party won 33 seats in March’s elections, but is polling at only 5-6 seats now, and many analysts believe it will fail to win any seats at all in the March 23, 2021, elections.

A large number of other lawmakers in the party are also looking elsewhere, TV reports said, inquiring into the possibility of joining parties across the political spectrum, from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in the center to Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina on the right, though it is unclear whether any of these three parties is interested in taking them.

Gantz entered politics two years ago, vowing to replace Netanyahu, then merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud. While Gantz campaigned on the promise that he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, he agreed to do just that in late March, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May. Furious, Yesh Atid and a second minor faction broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition.

Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Israel is consequently now gearing up for a fourth election after the Knesset dissolved this week. But polls have made clear that Gantz has lost the support of almost all of the voters who got behind him in the past three elections, and many MKs in his Blue and White Knesset faction are reading the writing on the wall, and looking for alternatives.

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