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Labor chief calls on Gantz to quit race: ‘Doesn’t really stand for anything’

Responding to Blue and White chief comparing himself to Rabin, Merav Michaeli says late PM ‘wouldn’t have sat with Netanyahu under 3 indictments’

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks to Channel 12 News, March 6, 2021 (video screenshot)
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks to Channel 12 News, March 6, 2021 (video screenshot)

Labor leader Merav Michaeli on Saturday called on Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz to quit the Knesset race, saying his party “doesn’t really stand for anything.”

After Gantz this week said he was the successor to the storied Labor party leader late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Michaeli told Channel 12 News: “Yitzhak Rabin wouldn’t have sat with Netanyahu [in a coalition] with three indictments [against the premier].”

Asked whether her party should have joined forces with the Meretz party ahead of the March 23 election, in light of the fact that Meretz in recent polls has been projected to fail to pass the Knesset threshold, Michaeli said Meretz had ruled out that possibility.

Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz “announced in advance…that Meretz will run alone. We never even held discussions… Meretz is an important party, I believe it will pass the electoral threshold.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a visit to the Druze village of Julis in northern Israel, February 23, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

But, she added, “The ones from the [center-left] bloc who need to quit are Blue and White. They can’t be trusted, they don’t really stand for anything. They sit within [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s government while again promising not to sit with him.”

Related: Gantz in ToI interview: What does Israel want in its leaders? Integrity or lies and manipulation?

While Labor has been polling at some 6-7 seats in most polls, Blue and White and Meretz have both fallen below the 4-seat threshold in some polls. However, the latest surveys have shown Gantz passing it with 4-5 seats, while Meretz falls short.

A poll by Channel 12 Saturday showed that two-and-a-half weeks before the election, some 10 percent of Israelis haven’t yet decided who to vote for.

Despite repeated calls to quit from others in the center-left, as well as mass desertions of Blue and White, Gantz has insisted he will plow ahead.

He has also warned that if he fails to enter the next Knesset, Netanyahu may fire him and his ministers before a new government is established and take far-reaching steps to cripple the justice system and hinder his trial on criminal charges.

In a February interview with Channel 12, Gantz said: “If I do not cross the electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset, and there’s a transitional government headed by Netanyahu, the very next day Netanyahu will fire all the Blue and White ministers, appoint [Likud’s Amir] Ohana as justice minister, fire Mandelblit, not extend the appointment of [new] state prosecutor Amit Aisman, and turn this place into a monarchy.

“There will be a fundamental change of the structure of the [governing] regime in Israel right in front of our eyes.”

Gantz currently serves as alternate prime minister, an unprecedented post created as part of the power-sharing agreement between himself and Netanyahu in May 2020. In that role, he has the power to veto cabinet votes and holds control over key ministries that Netanyahu cannot pry away from him so long as the government holds.

He is also slated to take the reins as premier in November of this year, if that government is still in office — an unlikely scenario but one that could potentially come to pass should political deadlock continue and no new government be formed following the March 23 election.

However, it is not clear whether Gantz would retain these powers should his party be ejected from the Knesset. Legal experts recently told The Times of Israel they believe Gantz’s position is secure, as the laws governing the current coalition, now in an interim capacity, must remain in effect until a new permanent government is formed.

When Gantz signed the coalition deal with Netanyahu, critics warned Netanyahu could not be trusted to hand over the premiership in November 2021, as was required by the Likud-Blue and White agreement.

The deal’s lone visible loophole that allowed the premier to avoid doing so was a failure to pass an annual budget. Gantz now believes Netanyahu used that loophole precisely to prevent the deal from being adhered to. For months, Likud and Blue and White fought over the budget as Netanyahu sought to change aspects of the coalition agreement. Ultimately, a deadline to approve a budget passed in December and the Knesset was automatically disbanded, leading to a new election, Israel’s fourth in two years.

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