Gantz meets Levy-Abekasis, wants her to join forces with his party in elections

Former IDF chief reportedly also seeking to add ex-military leaders Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon as he finalizes his Israel Resilience list

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at the Knesset on October 3, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at the Knesset on October 3, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz met this week with Orly Levy-Abekasis, chairman of the Gesher party, in an attempt to convince her to join forces with his Israel Resilience party in the upcoming Israeli elections, Hadashot news reported Friday.

According to the TV report, Levy-Abekasis, who split from Yisrael Beytenu in 2016, is still considering the offer, though polls indicate her faction is projected to pass the election threshold, making Gantz’s attempts to sway her potentially less effective.

Either way, due to legal issues, Gantz will likely not merge Levy-Abekasis’ party with his own, the newly formed Israel Resilience Party, the report said.

Levy-Abekasis entered the Knesset nine years ago as a member of hawkish former defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. But in May 2016, she announced that she would leave the party over its entry into the government, saying that it had abandoned its social platform during negotiations to enter the coalition. She has since been serving as an independent MK in the opposition.

The daughter of former long-time legislator and foreign minister David Levy, Levy-Abekasis is now running in April’s elections at the head of a new party called Gesher (Bridge) — the same name as her father’s faction of 20 years ago.

She is hard to classify politically, having made her name with activism on behalf of children, the elderly, and the poor. She has not yet specified who else would represent her party.

Hadashot TV added that Gantz is also courting former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi in the hopes of establishing Israel Resilience as an authority on security issues.

Former Israeli army’s chief of staff lieutenant-general Gabi Ashkenazi speaks in Tel Aviv on March 24, 2015. (Flash90)

Moshe Ya’alon, also a former IDF chief of staff as well as a former defense minister, has been approached by Gantz and has indicated he could be interested in joining forces. Ya’alon currently leads the newly formed Telem party.

Negotiations between Ya’alon and Gantz have reportedly stalled over the former’s refusal to join a potential Netanyahu government and his demand to serve as defense minister in a government led by Gantz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, right, and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, left, at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 27, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If Gantz manages to convince Ashkenazi and Ya’alon to join him, as well as secure a significant lead in the polls over Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, he hopes the centrist party’s leader will be persuaded to join Israel Resilience on a single list capable of gaining more seats than the Likud, according to Hadashot TV. Earlier reports have suggested Gantz and Lapid share common ground but that neither is prepared to serve as No.2 on a joint list.

Gantz has reportedly offered at least 12 individuals positions on his Israel Resilience party’s slate for the upcoming elections, the Haaretz daily reported Tuesday.

The candidate list is notably devoid of serving Knesset members. Ten sitting MKs reportedly sought to run on the party’s platform, but were rejected out of hand after they were told the party is not currently interested in enlisting sitting MKs.

Israeli television journalist Miki Haimovich and former Tel Aviv deputy mayor Asaf Zamir would make the party’s top-10 list if they agreed to join, according to Haaretz.

Other names suggested including educator Chili Tropper, former Yeruham mayor Michael Biton, and Alon Shuster, former head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

A recent survey on Israelis’ preferred candidate for prime minister gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 41 percent to Gantz’s 38% in a one-on-one scenario, marking the first time in years that any potential rival has come close to Netanyahu’s figures. The same survey gave Netanyahu 45% to Lapid’s 29%.

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz seen with Members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh HaAyin, during a protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State law’, January 14, 2019. (Flash90)

However,  Netanyahu’s Likud would easily retain its status as the largest party in national elections, according to a television poll aired Wednesday.

According to the survey for Hadashot TV news, Likud would win 32 seats if elections were held now (up from 30 in the outgoing Knesset), followed by the Yesh Atid party with 14 seats (up from 11).

Gantz’s Israel Resilience would finish third with 13 seats, while Levy-Abekasis’s  Gesher party would  get 4 seats.  Ya’alon’s Telem party would fail to clear the electoral threshold.

Gantz has not set out his political platform, but is widely expected to aim for the center ground. In brief remarks on Monday, he promised to “fix” the nation-state law on behalf of the Druze community, who argue that its provisions render them second-class citizens even though they serve in the IDF; leading Likud politicians immediately castigated his stance as proof that he is a left-winger.

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