Popular former IDF chief Benny Gantz is widely seen as the only candidate who can challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming national elections, even though he has yet to lay out his positions.
This silence has led to his political opponents trying to brand him as a “leftist” and Israeli media looking through archives to find any hint of his political views.
Hadashot news aired an interview on Friday from November 2017, in which Gantz said that Israel needs to strive for peace even if there is no partner on the Palestinian side.
“There’s no shame in longing for peace. There’s no shame in striving for peace,” said Gantz who served as IDF chief of staff. “I’m not interested in whether there is or isn’t a partner. We want to strive (for peace) not because of our neighbors, but for ourselves.”
“Do we want to send our children to fight for another 25 years? No. But are we going to have to do that? Apparently, yes. For another 50 years? Apparently, yes,” he said.
“What are we going to say to them? That we didn’t do anything, that we didn’t try, that we didn’t make the effort, that we didn’t check.”
Gantz formally launched his Israel Resilience party late last month, but has been largely mum on his positions. His party currently fares better than all other parties barring Netanyahu’s Likud in opinion polls, with projections of winning around 14 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Likud is expected to win around 30.
Speculative polls that offer the option of Gantz forming a shared slate with major factions, like the centrist Yesh Atid, show the alliance coming within a few seats of Likud, at 26-27 seats.
The Hadashot news report said that Gantz was unlikely to lay out his platform for another month until he had put together his party slate and had a clear picture of who he was running with.
Gantz has already faced a series of attacks from Likud politicians since he founded his party last month. The attacks disparaged him as a “closet leftist” and questioned his military bona fides.
According to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, top Likud officials and campaign planners have begun piecing together a “Gantz file” focused on unearthing embarrassing stories from his 38-year military career.
The file, and Likud’s expected anti-Gantz push planned for late in the campaign, will attempt to pin the purported failure to decisively defeat Hamas in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge on the former army chief.
On Sunday, Science Minister Ofir Akunis warned in an interview on Army Radio that Gantz had “hidden left-wing views.”
“If Benny Gantz had right-wing views, like [supporting] the complete Land of Israel [i.e., annexation of the West Bank] or opposition to a Palestinian state, he would tell you he’s stridently opposed to withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines and the division of Jerusalem. And he would tell you he supports free-market economics,” Akunis said.
In another year-old interview broadcast last week by Hadashot television news, Gantz said some settlements would be part of Israel “forever.”
“He doesn’t reveal his views because then they would be exposed as leftist,” Akunis said.
He added that “materials are being shared around about his wife taking part in events of Machsom Watch,” a left-wing advocacy group that campaigns against Israel’s control over the West Bank, referring to a long-refuted rumor about the former IDF chief’s wife.
Likud’s Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has already charged that Gantz underestimated the threat posed by Hamas during the 2014 war, told reporters on Sunday that “Gantz knows exactly why he’s staying silent. Like that time [in 2014] when he told the cabinet that the tunnels from Gaza aren’t a threat. Really? Anyone who votes Gantz doesn’t know what he’s getting.”
Gantz oversaw an IDF ground incursion into Gaza in that war charged with finding and destroying the entrances to Hamas tunnels.
The comments from Akunis and Regev came a day after Yoav Gallant, a former head of Southern Command who left the Kulanu party last week and joined Likud, said Gantz has been silent since launching his party because he has “nothing to say,” hinting ominously that Gantz could not defend his military record.
“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.”
Gantz’s Israel Resilience refused to respond directly to Gallant’s comments, saying Saturday, “The people of Israel need a different discourse, a more dignified and different leadership.”
Gantz was chosen for the position of IDF chief of staff in 2011 after Gallant’s candidacy was rejected.
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.
Gantz is generally respected for his time as chief of staff. His term saw the field deployment of the Iron Dome missile defense system, a restructuring and expansion of the IDF’s posture on the Lebanese and Syrian fronts, and the founding of the Depth Corps to increase the army’s ability to operate deep inside enemy territory in wartime.
Attacks over the conduct of the 2014 war may also backfire, as the key strategic decisions in that war were made not by the chief of staff at the time, but by a security cabinet headed by Netanyahu, who was criticized during the fighting by then-Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett and others for failing to launch a broader, more sweeping campaign in Gaza that would oust Hamas from power there.
Similarly, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman quit his job 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 party.