Two former army chiefs and a former Yesh Atid education minister on Monday launched a social movement aimed at healing rifts in Israel society, and dismissed speculation they were launching a political party.
Headlined by former IDF chief of staffs Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi — both of whom have long been rumored to be seeking a political career — and former minister Shai Piron, among others, the pioneers of social movement “Pnima,” or “Inwards” said at a press conference in Lod that their goal is to encourage dialogue between Israelis from various communities.
“When was the last time you sat down with an Ethiopian? A settler? Or an ultra-Orthodox [person]?” asked Ashkenazi, who accidentally referred to the movement as Kadima — the former centrist political party founded by another general, Ariel Sharon — on multiple occasions to titters from the crowd. “I joined Pnima, though I know that the headline will be Kadima,” he quipped.
“Not everything has to be political,” Ashkenazi later added. “I don’t think politics is the only way to do things.”
Calling for “an end to the divisions, an end to the incitement, an end to the baseless hatred,” Ashkenazi said, “My goal is that we get to know one another.”
Gantz, similarly, rejected suggestions the movement was a cover for a political party. “I think politics is important,” he said. “But we aren’t there, we are here.”
“The divisions in Israeli society must be dealt with,” Gantz said. “It must be said honestly, and it has been said here already, unfortunately, the political leadership in the State of Israel has not succeeded in meeting this challenge.” He urged a “bottom up” approach that would see grassroots influence change government policy.
While both Gantz and Ashkenazi have denied mulling a political run, and the former is blocked from running until 2018 when his cooling-off period ends, Israeli opinion polls have frequently included the two as potential candidates in political surveys.
Piron also denied a political goal, saying, “We aren’t here to help anyone politically or to harm them.”
Piron noted that having been both in politics and outside of it, he believes the more effective way to achieve change is through social activism.
“There are people, primarily politicians, who achieve gains for one community at the expense of another,” he said, by increasing “alienation, hatred.”
The Yesh Atid party also denied any connection to Pnima.
The diverse pane included the mother of terror victim Malachy Rosenfeld, shot dead in the West Bank in 2015, Arab-Israeli and ultra-Orthodox activists, and the mayor of the northern city of Acre.
To illustrate their point they showed a survey that indicated how deeply ingrained negative stereotypes are in Israeli society. According to the poll, 22.5% of the Jewish Israeli public says leftists are “dangerous,” 60% say the ultra-Orthodox “take advantage of the state,” and 43%, respectively, maintain that Tel Aviv residents are “condescending” and Arabs are “scary.”