The Israel Resilience and Likud parties ratcheted up election campaigns against each other Tuesday, accusing each others’ leaders of abandoning the country’s security and supporting the uprooting of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.
In a series of videos Tuesday, Israel Resilience, led by Benny Gantz, accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of caving to Hamas and evacuating settlements. It was the first time the party has leveled a direct attack on Netanyahu, who has waged a months-long campaign seeking to portray rival party leader Gantz as a “weak leftist.”
Gantz, who was approved to be army chief by Netanyahu’s cabinet in 2011, is seen as the most credible rival to the prime minister and his ruling Likud party in the April 9 election.
On Monday, Netanyahu said he would not sit in a coalition with Gantz, seemingly opening the door for the stepped up broadsides.
One video, which was released Tuesday, is set against the backdrop of Israeli civilians in Gaza-adjacent communities rushing to bomb shelters with sirens blaring. “Netanyahu pays Hamas murders $15 million every month in cash,” the text on the screen says. “In return, southern residents have been targeted with hundreds of rockets, arson kites and firebombs that have burned tens of thousands of dunams of land.
“We will not abandon southern residents,” the video says.
Qatar had pledged to send $15 million to Gaza monthly as part of an informal agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, which was reached in November. Under that deal, Israel allowed the grants to go through its territory in exchange for relative calm on the Gaza border.
Most of the funds were used to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants, but around $5 million monthly was set for impoverished Gazans. Hamas was criticized from within Gaza for taking the money for its own officials and Netanyahu’s government was ridiculed by lawmakers on both sides for paying “protection” payments to the terror group.
Late last month after Israel briefly held up the delivery of the cash for several days due to a flare-up of violence, Hamas said that it would no longer be accepting the funds. In response, Qatar announced that it would directly give $9.4 million to needy Gazans and use the remaining money for humanitarian projects in coordination with the United Nations.
In another clip, the party rips into Netanyahu and other top Likud officials over their support for the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.
“Israel Katz forcibly evicted Jews, Tzachi Hanegbi forcibly evicted Jews, Yuval Steinitz forcibly evicted Jews, Netanyahu forcibly evacuated Jews,” the video says. “That’s not how to make peace.”
The video concludes with a recording of Netanyahu’s vote in favor of the unilateral pullout, repeating the phrase “in favor” three times in a row.
The party also published a list of phone numbers belonging to Netanyahu and other Likud ministers on Facebook, and called on the public to forward them the campaign videos.
In a statement responding to the Israel Resilience party campaign videos, the Likud party said Netanyahu resigned from the government “in an attempt to prevent the disengagement,” and said the premier was building in the settlements.
“Benny Gantz is a weak leftist… who will uproot Jewish communities and evacuate Jews from their homes, and it is not for nothing that [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas supports him,” the statement read, referring to a spokesman for the PA leader who said he was “encouraged” by Gantz’s comments in the Yedioth interview
Gantz, himself, came under fire after appearing to support the 2005 move in an interview last week in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
“It was a legal action. It was approved by the government of Israel and carried out by the IDF and the settlers, with great pain but done very well. We have to take its lessons and implement them in other places,” he said.
At the same time, when asked about the removal of settlements located outside the so-called blocs and whether he would unilaterally pull out of areas of the West Bank if negotiations with the Palestinians flounder, Gantz said he would not wait for a partner willing to negotiate on his terms.
“I said I’m not waiting,” Gantz added. “I didn’t say it would be unilateral and I don’t mean that it will be unilateral. We will do something constructive. Up until now, my profession has been to destroy, now my role is to build. I will not wait, I will build.”
The new campaign ads from Israel Resilience were released after Likud published a fresh ad attacking Gantz over his role in an incident during the Second Intifada, in which a Druze Border Police officer bled to death awaiting an IDF rescue after being shot in clashes with Palestinians.
At the time, Gantz was regional commander for the West Bank, which includes the Joseph’s Tomb compound, where Madhat Yousef died.
In the Hebrew-language video published on Netanyahu’s personal Facebook page Monday, the brother of the officer, Mahdi Yousef is heard saying that Gantz is not suitable to be prime minister because of his handling of the 2000 incident.
“Anyone who abandons a wounded soldier can abandon the country,” Mahdi Yousef said in January, speaking out against Gantz’s newly launched political campaign. “It wasn’t just Madhat, 13 soldiers were abandoned — that is Gantz, Benny Gantz. That is [someone] unsuited to become prime minister.”
Yousef’s family has protested the use of Madhat in political campaigns.
Mahdi Yousef on Monday accused the prime minister of “dancing on Madhat’s grave,” Channel 12 news reported, saying that the family had even considered filing a lawsuit over the video.
“I request that the prime minister stop this cheap propaganda, and we don’t want Madhat’s name to be brought into politics,” Mahdi Yousef said in a statement.