MK Cotler-Wunsh quits Blue and White, says she’s ‘committed to continue serving’

Lawmaker leaves party after just 6 months in Knesset; announcement comes days after Gantz ousts 2 rebel lawmakers and amid reports he is mulling his own future

Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Rami Zarenger)
Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Rami Zarenger)

MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh announced on Tuesday that she will not run as a candidate for Blue and White in the March elections, as the apparent disintegration of the party continued.

“It is the role of responsible, honest leadership to identify, realize and represent the public in order to restore trust and renew hope,” Cotler-Wunsh said in a statement. “I am committed to continue serving, with courage and humility.”

Cotler-Wunsh was only sworn into the Knesset in June, under the so-called Norwegian law that enables ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament.

Her announcement came as Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz mulls his political future, with party officials reportedly giving him several more days to make a final decision on whether he intends to continue leading the party, merge with other parties, or quit politics altogether.

Alternate Prime Minister Defense Benny Gantz visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

TV reports on Friday said Gantz remains committed to leading his nosediving party, though he may not have many colleagues with whom to run, as multiple members of the centrist alliance are planning to jump ship or quit politics as the slate hemorrhages support in the polls.

On Sunday, Gantz informed MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich that they will not be included on the party’s list for the March 2021 election due to their decision to vote against extending the budget deadline last week, ultimately causing the fall of the government.

Zamir and Haimovich were two of the three Blue and White MKs — the third was Ram Shefa — to vote against the budget extension, felling the bill by 49-47 votes. Their votes set the course for the dissolution of the government a day later, triggering elections — the fourth in two years — that will be held on March 23.

Senior lawmakers in the party, including Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay have decided that they will not remain with a Gantz-led Blue and White, Channel 12 reported. The party won 33 seats in March’s elections, but is polling at only 5-6 seats now, and many analysts believe it will fail to win any seats at all in the upcoming elections.

Blue and White MKs Avi Nissenkorn (L) and Gabi Ashkenazi during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A large number of other lawmakers in the party are also looking elsewhere, TV reports said, inquiring into the possibility of joining parties across the political spectrum, from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in the center to Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina on the right, though it is unclear whether any of these three parties is interested in taking them.

A damning report by the “Uvda” investigative TV show on Thursday night further dented Gantz’s already waning support, suggesting the Blue and White leader kept his campaign advisers in the dark for months during the 2019 elections that his cellphone — containing highly personal information — had been hacked by Iran, but spoke openly about it to other confidants, with the information eventually getting to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign and the media.

The report further said that Blue and White spent NIS 500,000 in public funds at the CGI intel firm to keep quiet on Gantz’s alleged extramarital affairs. It dropped heavy hints of an alleged sexual relationship between Gantz and two women, including the party’s Omer Yankelevich, but stopped short of saying it outright.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020 (courtesy)

Gantz entered politics two years ago, vowing to replace Netanyahu, then merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud. While Gantz campaigned on the promise that he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, he agreed to do just that in late March, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May. Furious, Yesh Atid and a second minor faction broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition.

Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Israel is consequently now gearing up for a fourth election after the Knesset dissolved this week. But polls have made clear that Gantz has lost the support of almost all of the voters who got behind him in the past three elections.

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