Gantz says Netanyahu rancor could spark ‘civil war’
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Gantz says Netanyahu rancor could spark ‘civil war’

Entering campaign homestretch, Blue and White leaders say divisive campaign rhetoric risks inciting tensions, say PM has ‘lost it’ and country needs new leadership

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks in Tel Aviv on March 31, 2019 (Saria Diamant/ Blue and White)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks in Tel Aviv on March 31, 2019 (Saria Diamant/ Blue and White)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz warned Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric has reached dangerous levels and “could spark a civil war.”

The charge came a day after Gantz accused Netanyahu of being involved in the incitement to violence that led to the 1995 assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin,

Launching Blue and White’s campaign for the final 10-day stretch before election day, Gantz and party number two Yair Lapid said that after 13 years in power, Netanyahu has “lost it,” and the time had come for him to leave the Prime Minister’s Office.

“When you are in office too long, you lose the statesmanship, you lose the desire and the longing to serve other people and enact change, and you begin to deal only with your political survival,” Gantz said at the Tel Aviv event, promising that he will enact a law to limit the premiership to two terms or no more than eight years.

“Something happened to Bibi,” the former IDF chief said, using a nickname for the prime minister. “He used to be different, but 13 years [in power] have done this to him. He has lost something he once had, and instead of cultivating civil unity, he could cause a civil war, and we must be wary of it,” he continued.

Gantz highlighted recent Likud campaign ads that have featured IDF soldiers’ graves in the background or mocked the appearance of a journalist who suffered disfiguring injuries as a soldier in battle. “What luck we have that Israelis are above all this muck you are trying to spread. They will not let it continue,” he said.

The warning echoed similar predictions of internal Israeli violence in the lead-up to the assassination of prime minister Rabin and comes after Gantz on Saturday night accused Netanyahu of playing a role in the incitement that led to the murder.

Blue and White’s Yair Lapid on March 31, 2019. (Saria Diamant/Blue and White).

Asked by Channel 12 news about a reported recording in which he tells associates that Netanyahu could want to have him killed, Gantz referenced heated rhetoric that has been blamed for the assassination of Rabin outside a Tel Aviv rally.

“Remember, things have already occurred in Israel, in which, unfortunately, Mr. Netanyahu was on stage, and walking behind a coffin in another place,” Gantz told the channel’s “Meet the Press” program. “We’ve seen how exaggerating things like this ends.”

Rabin was murdered on November 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, who was opposed to the Oslo Accords and the handing over of control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians as a part of the landmark peace agreement.

In the weeks before the assassination, Netanyahu, then head of the opposition, and other senior Likud members attended a right-wing political rally in Jerusalem where protesters branded Rabin a “traitor,” “murderer” and “Nazi” for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians earlier that year. Netanyahu has regularly rebuffed the allegations that he ignored inflammatory rhetoric that incited to Rabin’s murder and characterized the accusations as a form of “political assassination.”

Associates of Gantz have previously warned of “serious incitement” against the candidate, including death wishes, with the severity of the threats reportedly increasing as the April 9 election nears. Gantz recently began appearing in public flanked by bodyguards.

Likud supporters have used the Gantz recordings in which he frets about his safety and other awkward media appearances to call into question the former IDF chief’s mental health. Gantz has responded that he had not undergone any psychiatric treatment and was not on medication, as alleged in a recent report.

Asked by The Times of Israel if his suggestion that Netanyahu had “lost it” implied the prime minister’s own mental state was compromised, Gantz incredulously responded that he had never made such a suggestion.

Instead, he said, “Netanyahu has a clouded judgement that stems from the tremendous pressure that he finds [himself under] because of the indictments against him, and therefore he must finish his job [as prime minister].”

Gantz on Sunday also took aim at Netanyahu over both his security and domestic policy proposals, or, as he charged, the lack of them.

“You can’t let Hamas set the rules of the game. Today, that’s what they are doing. They decide when to attack, and where. It’s not acceptable,” he said of the ongoing flare-up with the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

“At the same time, you have abandoned the hospitals and the needs of real Israelis.”

Speaking alongside Gantz, Lapid said that Blue and White would offer “a different kind of leadership” for Israel.

“Netanyahu has done good things in office, but after 13 years, there has been erosion, a corruption of his leadership,” Lapid said. “He doesn’t work for the public, only for himself and the only reason we are here, as opposed to him, is that we want to work for the people of Israel.”

After calls from the Labor opposition party to nix a rotation deal that would see Lapid replace Gantz as prime minister mid-term, should they win the election, the Yesh Atid head insisted that the deal would remain in place as it represented “true cooperation.”

The agreement — which would see Gantz take the post for the first two and a half years if the party forms the next government, and Lapid taking over for the next year and a half — was key to the unity deal between Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Lapid’s Yesh Atid, when the two factions merged to form Blue and White.

Polls have shown Blue and White, under the current deal, holds a slight lead over Likud, though projections indicate the party would have a much harder time than Likud cobbling together a coalition.

A Blue and White spokesperson told the Times of Israel that forming a coalition would be possible, as long as the party maintained their lead.

“Our focus is on being the biggest party, making sure we are ahead when we reach April 9,” they said.

Suggesting that the campaign will be directed, in part, against fellow parties campaigning on an anti-Netanyahu platform, Blue and White is claiming that the only certain way to ensure the prime minister is ousted is to rally around his chief rival’s flag.

“Anyone who wants to see us building the coalition has to vote for us; anyone who wants Benny Gantz as prime minister needs to vote for us,” the spokesperson said. “Once we are the biggest party, the task of building the government will be placed in our hands.”

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