Political rivals wasted no time in attacking neophyte politician Benny Gantz Tuesday, as he launched his political campaign and bid to lead the country.
Right-wing lawmakers charged that Gantz’s remarks in Tel Aviv showed he is a leftist, while those on the left of Israeli politics were disappointed that the former army chief left himself room to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a future government.
Netanyahu responded with a terse Twitter post in which he scorned Gantz for trying to present himself as centrist.
“Another Lapid speech,” Netanyahu wrote referring Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party.
“Anyone who says he isn’t left or right — is left,” the prime minister declared.
Gantz is seen as the strongest challenger to Netanyahu in years, with surveys showing many Israelis seeing him as a suitable prime minister, and polls positioning him as a possible leader of a center-left bloc. Gantz broke his political silence at his campaign launch event held at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds.
Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of the Netanyahu’s Likud party, responded to Gantz with a tweet, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
“You would expect from someone who claims to be running for leadership of the country to present a path, values, and to not be satisfied with flattering posters and poetic slogans,” he wrote.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, slammed Gantz’s vow to enable public transport on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, and his support of civil marriage and of the 2015 Western Wall compromise, which would ensure all streams of Judaism have formal prayer rights at one of the holiest places.
“After months of silence the news for the people of Israel is civil marriages and a reform section at the Western Wall?” Deri tweeted, adding “Public transport on Shabbat? No, Benny. That is not the way to unite the people, rather to divide it. Do not remove the delicate tissue that connects us as a people. Do not touch the Jewish tradition.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who co-leads the recently formed New Right party, called the former IDF chief a danger to the country’s security.
“He talks well, but is weak in action,” Bennett said. “Gantz is a clear leftist in his views. It is dangerous to give him the defense portfolio or responsibility for the security of Israel.”
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) accused Gantz of not revealing his real opinions.
“We heard a lot of slogans but we didn’t hear positions,” Akunis said, according to the Walla website. “To blur and hide positions is not leadership and not statesmanship. It is completely clear that when you have leftist views you need to hide them from the public, in order to gather votes.”
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev echoed Akunis.
“Gantz is the new left, which apparently doesn’t distinguish between a monarchy and democracy,” she said, referring to comments by Gantz in which he suggested the government is behaving like a monarchy. “Worst of all, he didn’t give his opinion on important political issues. He stayed silent; all he wants is to bring down the right and Netanyahu.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, also of Likud, said “Benny Gantz’s media advisers did not pass up on a single empty slogan or worn-out cliche.”
“Benny Gantz is the new Yair Lapid, left in camouflage,” she said, adding “the right-wing public is not buying the costume.”
Veteran MK Shelly Yachimovich of the opposition Labor Party lamented that Gantz indicated he would be prepared to sit with Netanyahu in a government as long as the prime minister is not indicted in various corruption cases against him.
“Courage is needed not only on the battlefield but also in politics,” she tweeted. “Gantz said nice things, but he left himself an option to be a minister in the government of someone who is up to the neck in criminal activity and is breaking the rule of law for his own purposes. It is regrettable that new people in politics who are supposed to bring a fresh and clean spirit do not show public courage.”
Tzipi Livni, the head of the opposition Hatnua party, took a more favorable view, congratulating Gantz on the speech and paraphrasing some of his comments, too.
“There is no doubt that the country comes before us and the answer to the question of what kind of Israel we leave behind us — will it be a country with a bad wind as Netanyahu and his partners left it, or a state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, with a Jewish majority and with equality.
Gantz’s decision to run on a joint electoral slate with fellow former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, who set up the Telem party, also drew mixed reactions, with mostly praise coming from the center-left that has sought to form a bloc with the ex-generals.
Despite being a security hawk opposed to Palestinian statehood, Ya’alon has been welcomed by many on the left for his opposition to Netanyahu.
Leader of the Labor Party Avi Gabbay welcomed the union, saying “alliances are important,” but noted that the new partnership must now choose whether or not to directly oppose Netanyahu in forming the next government.
“Gantz and Ya’alon need to decide if they want to continue to perpetuate the Netanyahu rule or that together we will defeat Netanyahu,” Gabbay said at the Israel National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv.
MK Yair Lapid said that Gantz and Ya’alon “are good and valuable people and it is good that they are in politics. I wish them luck, just as long as they don’t overdo it.”
However, Lapid clarified that his election plan is to aim for the position of prime minister and that if he wins, he will first approach the Likud party or Labor to form a coalition, Channel 13 TV news reported.
The New Right party, led by Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who are longtime critics of Netanyahu and then-IDF chief Gantz’s policy of containment of Hamas in Gaza, issued a biting critique.
In a statement, New Right called the two former IDF chiefs “the architects of the stalemate” with Hamas.
“The last time [Ya’alon] and Gantz worked together it ended with 30 terror tunnels [from Gaza] in the south,” the New Right said.
“Both are good people, but they led the weak stalemate doctrine,” the statement said, adding “it’s a doctrine of ignoring threats instead of taking care of them with determination. The question in this election is, what’s better, Gantz and Ya’alon’s stalemate doctrine, or [New Right chair Naftali] Bennett’s doctrine of decisive victory.”
Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, whose appointment to the ministry by Netanyahu prompted Ya’alon to resign from the government in 2016, dismissed the union as fleeting.
“What is clear at the moment is that the general’s party is a one-off, a party which was set up in preparation for the elections and will disappear before the next elections,” said Liberman, who leads the Yisrael Beytenu party. “I wish them success, but I admit that I don’t agree with them about anything.”
MK Michal Rozin of the left-wing Meretz party questioned the suitability of a party in which two top figures have such diverse views on key state policies.
“It is becoming clear that ‘there is no right and no left’ if [Ya’alon] who opposes the two-state solution and Gantz, who apparently is seeking peace, join together in the generals party,” she said referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since resigning, Ya’alon has become a strident critic of Netanyahu and said he would not sit in a coalition with him.
Polls have shown Israel Resilience garnering 13-15 seats in the April 9 elections, making it the second or third largest party, while Ya’alon was seen as failing to gain enough votes to enter the 120-member Knesset.