Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Monday said he was open to sitting in a coalition with “anyone Jewish and Zionist,” apparently ruling out non-Jewish minorities as potential partners.
Speaking to a crowd of some 500 people in the southern city of Beersheba — and facing questions from the public for the first time — Gantz also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign over the mounting corruption allegations against him.
The former IDF chief of staff discussed the prospects of future coalition partnerships as Netanyahu faced accusations of racism for suggesting that Arab Israelis have no place in Israel’s government.
Gantz said that Blue and White wanted “as many people as possible to join us in government,” after the April 9 election.
“We are looking at lots of potential partners,” he said, specifically mentioning the right-wing Likud and center-left Labor parties.
“We have no limitations on working with anyone,” Gantz said, before adding, “anyone who is Jewish and Zionist, who isn’t an extremist, and who will work for the good of Israel.”
A central part of Netanyahu’s campaign against his prime challenger has been his allegation that the Blue and White chairman will be unable to build a ruling coalition without the backing of the Arab parties. Arab parties have never sat in an Israeli coalition government, but have supported minority governments from the outside.
Gantz has been quick to reject the allegation, saying he would not rely on anti-Zionist lawmakers in the Knesset to stabilize a future government.
While he has in the past effectively ruled out sitting with the two Arab Israeli slates running in this election by saying he will only sit with with”Zionist parties,” Gantz had not previously mentioned being Jewish as a condition.
A party spokesperson declined to offer an on-record explanation when asked about the comment by The Times of Israel.
The comment came amid criticism of Netanyahu over what some have described as anti-Arab and racist rhetoric in his attempts to discredit Gantz.
Netanyahu and his Likud ministers have over the past week pushed the talking point that the choice in the election is between Netanyahu and the Arab lawmakers, chief among them the Ta’al party’s MK Ahmad Tibi. The refrain, “It’s Bibi or Tibi,” using Netanyahu’s nickname, has been uttered multiple times in recent days by top party officials.
On Sunday, Netanyahu engaged in a social media argument with a popular reality TV host who criticized his party’s attacks on the Arab parties, after Culture Minister Miri Regev in a Saturday TV interview repeated the claim that Gantz will form a government with Arab parties.
“What is the problem with the Arabs???” 35-year-old model and actress Rotem Sela wrote on Instagram.
“Dear god, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human,” she said.
Netanyahu shot back on his account: “Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.
“As you wrote, there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population,” he added, but immediately went on to claim, once again, that a Gantz-led government that includes the Arab parties would “undercut the state’s security.”
Calls on Netanyahu to resign
Gantz opened Monday’s Beersheba gathering, his first town hall event, with a call that Netanyahu resign due to potential criminal charges against him, as the attorney general announced that the prime minister’s pre-indictment hearing would be held by July.
“The announcement of the attorney general of such a short hearing process is not small matter,” Gantz said, adding that Israel cannot have a “part-time prime minister” as its leader fends off criminal charges.
Charging that Netanyahu will have to spend a significant amount of his time fighting the charges in court, Gantz said that, “the right thing to do would be if he resigned and showed that the State of Israel came before everything else… If you care about this country, take responsibility for its citizens and stop dealing only with yourself.”
In a statement from the Justice Ministry earlier Monday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that a pre-indictment hearing in the three cases against Netanyahu will be completed no later than three months after the documents are released to prosecutors overseeing the hearings on April 10.
Mandelblit announced last month he intended to indict Netanyahu pending the hearing in three separate criminal cases for fraud, bribery and breach of trust, six weeks ahead of national elections.
Though the decision is not final, Mandelblit’s announcement that he intended to charge Netanyahu marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and cast a heavy shadow over his re-election campaign.
“On the prime minister’s agenda is bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His agenda is Netanyahu before everything else. Our agenda is Israel before everything else,” Gantz said to the cheers of the crowd.
Attacking Netanyahu’s claims of a conspiracy and witch hunt against him, Gantz, addressing the prime minister said, “You have brought all of this on yourself.”
“This was not the work of the head of the police who you appointed, not the head of the state prosecution who you appointed, not the attorney general who you appointed. None of them. It’s only you,” he said.