'Benny Gantz, shame on you'

Netanyahu plays up military past in sharp response to scathing Gantz attack

PM says he risked his life in elite unit after Israel Resilience chief mocks him for practicing his English at cocktail parties in the US

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90; Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90; Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday released a video response to Benny Gantz’s blistering attack against him the previous night, seeking to emphasize his past in an elite military unit.

The Israel Resilience party chief had depicted Netanyahu as an American-trained phony who spent years enjoying the high life in the United States while he, Gantz, was risking his life in the trenches with Israel’s soldiers.

“Benny Gantz, shame on you,” Netanyahu said in the Hebrew-language video, which mostly echoed a written statement released by his office immediately after Gantz’s speech.

“You are attacking me, a soldier and officer in [special forces unit] Sayeret Matkal, who commanded many operations behind enemy lines, who was wounded in the [1972] operation to rescue the hostages of the Sabena plane, who almost lost my life in a shootout in the Suez Canal, who risked my life time after time for our state, which you want to endanger with unilateral withdrawals and support for the dangerous Iran nuclear deal,” he continued.

“And what else are you attacking me for? The English I speak, the English which has been a central tool in our public diplomacy war and which greatly helped me improve our foreign relations to an all-time record,” Netanyahu added.

In this Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) file photo, then-Lieutenant Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Israeli President Zalman Shazar during a ceremony honoring the soldiers from the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit who freed the hostages in the Sabena Airlines hijacking, at the President’s residence on November 1, 1972 (GPO/Flash90)

“I want to thank my brothers in arms from Sayeret Matkal, across the political spectrum, who came out against those outrageous remarks and stood up for the truth,” he said.

“Citizens of Israel, in the upcoming elections you will also be required to make a stand and choose between a weak left-wing government headed by Benny Gantz and a strong right-wing government headed by me,” he concluded.

In his speech on Tuesday at an event in Tel Aviv after presenting his party slate for the April 9 elections, Gantz played on his own long military career, which culminated in his tenure as IDF chief of staff, while castigating Netanyahu for spending years in the US — where the prime minister attended university, worked, and later represented Israel diplomatically — portraying the prime minister as only partly Israeli.

“When I lay in the muddy trenches with my soldiers on frozen winter nights, you left Israel to learn English and practice it at fancy cocktail parties,” Gantz said.

“I appreciate your contribution to the State of Israel, but I know your weaknesses well,” he said, looking directly into the camera as though addressing the prime minister. “In the days when I commanded the [elite commando] Shaldag unit on dangerous operations in enemy countries, you, Benjamin Netanyahu, bravely and determinedly made your way through the makeup rooms of television studios.

“At a time when I trained generations of commanders and fighters, you were taking acting lessons in a New York studio,” Gantz added.

Chief of staff Benny Gantz at a Central Command drill on November 13, 2014 (Gadi Yampel/ IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/ Flash 90)

“In another month and a half we will all go and choose between a ruler who has English from Boston, heavy makeup and expensive suits, and a real, caring Israeli leader, who is not fake, and not kingly,” he declared, in a speech that contrasted sharply with the milder comments he made last month at the launch of his election campaign.

“In the past decade, Israel has been ruled by one ruling party. In the ruling party, a single ruler was in charge,” Gantz said. “He had no internal opposition and no external opposition. For a decade, the citizens of Israel were forced to choose between one ruling party and one ruler and a series of niche parties that did not threaten him. He ruled the country through incitement, deception and fear. No more. This time it’s different. The single ruler is currently stressed, afraid, sweating. His jesters are no longer laughing and his party is frightened.”

As he spoke, several supporters in the crowd chanted, “Bibi go home,” using the prime minister’s nickname.

“For the first time in ten years,” Gantz asserted, “both the ruler and his henchmen understand that this time a new ruling party is facing them.”

Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz speaks at a party gathering in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“For ten years there was a patronizing and divisive government here that did not feel the need to make an effort for the citizens of the country in general, and specifically for those who did not choose,” Gantz went on. “It indulged in the pleasures of power, corruption and hedonism. The concern for citizens was replaced by an agenda of hatred. While the people showed loyalty to it, it showed no loyalty to the people.”

Gantz then went on to slam Netanyahu’s assaults on the press, the attorney general and the police, all of whom the prime minister has accused of being behind three graft investigations against him, which are reportedly expected to lead to indictments, pending a hearing process.

Gantz is seen as the most realistic challenger to Netanyahu in the April 9 elections, although Netanyahu and his ruling Likud party are still expected to have the best chance of forming a working coalition.

Earlier in the day Israel Resilience published its election slate. Parties have until a Thursday deadline to finalize their candidates.

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