Launching campaign, Gantz says Lapid won’t be able to lead next government
Defense minister says options are a government under himself or Netanyahu, or 6th election; several current MKs not in realistic contention, including Gantz’s current faction chief
Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday launched his newly rebranded National Unity Party’s election campaign ahead of the November 1 vote, and dismissed Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s candidacy by saying that he is the only alternative to the return of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu — or yet another election.
“There are three options: Bibi [Netanyahu] will form an extremist, Kahanist government that will destroy Israeli democracy as we know it; we will go to another election, which will continue to tear the nation apart; or I will form a stable and national unity government,” Gantz said at his campaign launch event in Tel Aviv.
The National Unity leader is generally perceived as a possible third option behind Netanyahu and Lapid, and his party is currently polling at 12-14 seats in the next Knesset — behind both Likud and Lapid’s Yesh Atid.
While the right-religious bloc led by Netanyahu is polling ahead of the current government bloc, neither Netanyahu, Gantz, nor Lapid has a certain path to power barring a decisive electoral showing or shifts in the current political blocs. Gantz and his party are positioning themselves as potential keystones in a unity government that includes current opposition members.
Driving home the message that National Unity can draw in different corners of Israel’s political map, Gantz argued his party would be able to create alliances to break the current blocs.
“The only option for leadership that will succeed in carrying out necessary political alliances is the National Unity Party,” he said.
Even before the government fell in late June, Gantz was reportedly in talks with ultra-Orthodox parties to feel out a possible alternative government that included their support. United Torah Judaism party leader Moshe Gafni has praised Gantz’s character in the past, but on Tuesday reiterated that he only plans to form a government with Netanyahu and the political right.
“I am going with Netanyahu and with the right, I have always gone with the right and this will continue,” Gafni said at a Jerusalem conference. The UTJ leader called any “reports that say I am going with Gantz and Sa’ar” a form of slander.
Gantz addressed the ultra-Orthodox public on Tuesday and said that “only a centrist government will know how to preserve Judaism and respond to your needs – as part of the needs of Israeli society as a whole.” He also made appeals to Arab, national religious and mainstream corners of Israel’s political map, vowing to provide security and stability, and address the cost of living.
National Unity was formed earlier this summer when Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party joined hands with right-wing New Hope, led by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Gantz’s partner Gideon Sa’ar on Tuesday echoed the message that “only Benny Gantz as the head of the National Unity Party can take Israel and the political system out of this crisis and unite Israel,” and that “Bibi [Netanyahu] and Yair [Lapid] cannot unite Israel.”
National Unity is a merger of Gantz’s Blue and White with Sa’ar’s New Hope. Sa’ar’s influence was felt on the party’s candidate list, which bumped several sitting lawmakers out of Knesset contention in order to merge the slates.
Behind Gantz, Sa’ar and former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot in the third spot, the top eight spots on the list alternate between Blue and White and New Hope politicians, with former Yamina minister Matan Kahana slotted into the ninth space.
Ministers Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White), Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), Chili Tropper (Blue and White), and Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) are in spots four through seven, with Blue and White MK Michael Biton rounding out the eighth spot in front of Kahana.
Blue and White minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen in the 10th spot restarts the alternating roster, followed by MKs Sharren Haskel (New Hope), Alon Schuster (Blue and White), Michel Buskila (New Hope), and Eitan Ginzburg (Blue and White) in spot 14.
The party’s crowded list demonstrated the political cost to combining forces, as important Knesset operators like faction director Ginzburg was pushed to the 14th spot, polling possibly outside the party’s election haul.
Buskila, a spot above, was recently sworn in to replace MK Michal Shir after she resigned her post to run with Yesh Atid in November.
Although the party previously announced that outsider Eisenkot would bring candidates into the list with him, he is the only non-current lawmaker to snag a realistic spot.
Among the other current lawmakers knocked out of realistic spots by the merger are Knesset environmental advocate Alon Tal from Blue and White, who is pushed to 24, and former Yamina MK Shirly Pinto, who left the beleaguered party for National Unity’s 23rd spot.
Environmental activists protesting to push Tal into one of the list’s top 10 spots were escorted out of the campaign event for interrupting Gantz’s remarks.
The list’s two Druze candidates also occupy unrealistic spots, with Akram Hasson at 16 and MK Mufid Mari in slot 19.