Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid out in force as battle for the center heats up

Days after Benny Gantz’s first speech, supporters from both parties campaign for their candidates, show their ability to mobilize effectively

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Israel Resilience's Benny Gantz speaking to a Times of Israel journalist while campaigning in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2019 (Sraya Diamant/Israel Resilience)
Israel Resilience's Benny Gantz speaking to a Times of Israel journalist while campaigning in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2019 (Sraya Diamant/Israel Resilience)

Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid party activists were out in force across Israel on Friday in attempts to sway voters their way, as both try to portray themselves as the main alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party.

Three days after making his maiden political speech and officially launching his election campaign, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz was keen to show that his Israel Resilience party was able to mobilize the sort of mass ground operation needed ahead of the national ballot, set for April 9.

According to the party, hundreds of activists led Israel Resilience outreach efforts in 60 different cities and junctions across Israel. A photo shared by Gantz on Twitter showed supporters wearing party t-shirts and hanging banners in various locations and cities.

Gantz himself started the day by meeting activists at a small café in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Kochav Ha’tsafon. In a middle class and predominantly Ashkenazi area with a smattering of military types, the former general was on safe ground and relished in meeting the locals, while refusing to answer questions posed by The Times of Israel.

Israel Resilience’s Benny Gantz during a meeting with residents of Rishon Letzion on February 1, 2019 (Sraya Diamant)

He later met party volunteers in the central city of Rishon Lezion, praising what he said was an already significant ground operation.

“In a short period, we established a significant party. I’ll reiterate our key message to the public: Strength in the face of our enemies and a connection between Israelis. Let’s bring the Israeli public closer to this message and together, put Israel before everything,” Gantz told volunteers and journalists.

Polls taken after Gantz’s maiden speech on Tuesday showed the Israel Resilience party closing in on Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of the elections, though still 6-9 seats behind the ruling party. Potentially of more significance, a Channel 12 poll showed that a Gantz-headed alliance with fellow centrists, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, would win 35 seats to the Likud’s 30. In such a scenario, Gantz could be well-placed to form Israel’s next coalition government.

With Lapid at the helm, however, the merged parties would not pass Likud, only scoring 30 to the ruling party’s 31 seats, the poll showed.

Lapid has been resisting an alliance with Gantz, and his party insisted in a statement Wednesday that Lapid remains the “only answer” to Netanyahu. Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party said in a statement regarding the rosy polls that it was “not ecstatic over upturns nor worried about downturns. The public will decide.”

Yesh Atid party MK Karine Elharrar and activists in Rishon Lezion, February 1, 2019 (Courtesy)

While Yesh Atid already boasts an impressive network of volunteers and has been holding regular campaign activities for weeks, perhaps in response to Gantz, it made a particular effort on Friday to publicize its reach.

“Thousands of Yesh Atid activists took part in field activities across the country today where they handed out flyers and took Yesh Atid’s vision directly to the public,” the party said in a statement.

Yesh Atid supporters were out in force from the north to the south in around 100 locations, a statement stressed, noting activities in the Golan Heights, Haifa, Jerusalem, Netanya, Kibbutz Beeri, Tel Aviv, Holon, Bat Yam, Lod, Modiin, Raanana, Binyamina, Rishon LeZion, Arad, and Beer Sheva.

“With this kind of spirit, 15,000 volunteers and 140 active branches across the country, Yesh Atid is the only party capable of taking the fight to Likud in the field,” a Yesh Atid spokesman said.

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