Hitting back at Gallant, Gantz’s party says Israel needs ‘different leadership’

Israel Resilience party urges ‘different discourse’ after former IDF colleague attacks political newcomer’s campaign, questions his military record and says he has ‘nothing to say’

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference, in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference, in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The party of former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz on Saturday hit back at Likud minister Yoav Gallant, after the latter said political newcomer Gantz could not defend his record as military chief.

A statement from Gantz’s newly formed Israel Resilience party did not directly address the criticism, but issued a statement saying: “The people of Israel need a different discourse, a dignified and different leadership.”

Earlier on Saturday, Gallant, who left the Kulanu party this week and joined the Likud, said Gantz has been silent since launching his party because he has “nothing to say.”

“I think he knows why he’s being silent. I also know why he’s being silent and thousands of officers who served under our command know why he’s being silent,” Gallant told an audience at a cultural event in Ness Ziona. “When you have nothing to say, you don’t talk.”

Housing Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, held at Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem, November 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gallant added wryly: “I’m not going to interfere with how the left divvies up its votes.”

Gantz, a former chief of staff chosen for the position in 2011 after Gallant’s candidacy was rejected, formally launched his political party late last month ahead of the upcoming April 9 elections, but has been largely mum on his positions.

His Israel Resilience currently fares better than all other parties barring Netanyahu’s Likud in polls, with projections of winning around 14 seats in the election. Likud is expected to win around 30.

Initially approved by the government as chief of staff, Gallant’s appointment was subsequently canceled when questions arose over his appropriation of public lands for the construction of his home in the northern village of Amikam. He subsequently left the army and entered politics. He is now seeking a seat with Likud in April’s elections.

At the same event, MK Stav Shaffir said she had “talked to Gantz in the past and his positions are that of the Labor Party.” She expressed hope her party leader Avi Gabbay would bring about mergers between the parties.

Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir in the Knesset, February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At an event in Modiin, opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich also said she was “making efforts to shore up our ranks. Not only am I not ruling it out — I would like there to be a joining with Benny Gantz’s new party at some point.”

Yachimovich was made opposition leader by Gabbay this week after he dismantled the Zionist Union, announcing during a live broadcast that he was breaking with MK Tzipi Livni and her Hatnua party, in a move many criticized as humiliating to Livni, who had not known of it in advance.

“I would have done it differently, but I’m not one of those terribly shocked by the move,” Yachimovich said. “There was an element of humiliation, but he too was humiliated several times in recent months [by Livni].”

Gabbay had reportedly felt Livni was trying to undermine his leadership of the Zionist Union, while attempting to set up alternative alliances.

On Saturday a leading member of the Yesh Atid party said he was open to Livni joining forces with the party ahead of the April elections.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah speaks during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Ofer Shelah said Livni was a “worthy” partner and added: “We don’t fire people live… we’re in touch with everyone.”

Shelah also did not reject the possibility of joining up with Gantz’s Israel Resilience, but said there was no reason for party leader Yair Lapid to give Gantz the number one spot in such a union.

“I’ve known Gantz for 40 years,” said Shelah, also a former army commander. “The world of politics is very different from what he knows.”

Numerous parties are vying for the centrist vote in the upcoming polls, and there have been calls for a joining of ranks by the center-left in an effort to oust Netanyahu, but no agreement on who should lead such a union.

Gabbay on Friday urged Lapid and Gantz to join up with Labor, but stressed that he would insist on being the leader of any such alliance and that he was confident he will be Israel’s next prime minister.

Rather than boosting Labor in opinion polls, Gabbay’s removal of Livni may have hurt his list’s chances. Surveys have seen Labor heading for only 7-8 seats in the elections. In the outgoing Knesset, the Zionist Union won 24 seats.

In several television interviews on Friday evening, Gabbay shrugged off criticism, including from within his own party, for the cruel manner in which he ditched Livni, and professed to remain confident of winning the elections. This even though Netanyahu’s Likud is polling at around 30 seats — the same number it won in the 2015 elections.

Current surveys all show the various right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties are together heading for another Knesset majority.

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay (L) announces the shock break up of the Zionist Union as his erstwhile partner, head of opposition Tzipi Livni, looks on, during a party faction meeting in the Knesset on January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gabbay also shrugged off the threat of a rebellion against him within Labor, promising Hadashot TV, “I’ll head the Labor Party come what may” in the elections.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, was reported by Kan to be interested in building an alliance with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. However, resistance within the Likud would only make this feasible if parties in the center and center-left were to build alliances that potentially threatened the Likud. Were that to happen, Kan said, Netanyahu would seek to merge the parties and arrange safe seats on the Likud Knesset slate for Kahlon and Liberman.

Liberman quit as defense minister in November 2018, castigating Netanyahu for failing to launch a fierce offensive against Hamas after a two-day escalation of rocket fire into Israel from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Liberman’s departure helped prompt the calling of early elections, since the coalition shrank to just 61 of the 120 members of Knesset when he bolted with his Yisrael Beytenu party, and a rapid return to any kind of formal alliance with Netanyahu would appear improbable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters in Rio de Janeiro on December 31, 2018. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Netanyahu was also reported by Kan on Friday to have commissioned surveys to determine whether yet another former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, would attract a significant number of votes to the Likud, and to have concluded that he would not.

The same conclusion was reportedly reached regarding Gal Hirsch, a former IDF general and one-time candidate for police chief who is under investigation for alleged illicit business dealings and has announced he plans to run for the Knesset.

Hadashot TV said Ashkenazi might join Gantz’s slate, but only if he becomes convinced it has a realistic chance of defeating Netanyahu.

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