Senior Likud minister dismisses Gantz as politically irrelevant
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Senior Likud minister dismisses Gantz as politically irrelevant

Tzachi Hanegbi says ex-army chief and his Israel Resilience party aren’t worth attacking, because they are not drawing votes away from Netanyahu

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi attends a press conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 13, 2017, announcing a water agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi attends a press conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 13, 2017, announcing a water agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi on Thursday said the election challenge mounted by former army chief Benny Gantz is so insignificant, it doesn’t even warrant acknowledgement by the ruling Likud party.

Hanegbi, a senior figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and close confidant of the Israeli leader, told Army Radio in an interview that he is not worried about Gantz because “he has no political relevance.”

Addressing scathing criticism from Likud lawmakers of Gantz following his first public comments since launching his election bid last month, Hanegbi said that it is “unnecessary.”

The minister said polls show Gantz has little influence on the number of seats the Likud and its right-wing allies are expected to win in the April 9 elections.

Rather, the former top IDF officer seems to be drawing votes away from other center or center-left parties only, said Hanegbi.

“So I wouldn’t waste time attacking him,” Hanegbi continued.

“Those who need to attack him are [Yair] Lapid and [Avi] Gabbay,” he added referring to the leaders of the Yesh Atid and Labor parties, respectively. He also  predicted the centrist and center-left leaders will soon begin to attack Gantz, who has so far reportedly spurned their attempts to join forces in a combined effort to unseat Netanyahu.

A Hadashot TV news poll published Wednesday found Likud would win 32 seats if elections were held today (up from 30 in the outgoing Knesset), followed by Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party with 14 seats (up from 11), and Gantz would finish third with 13 seats. Labor would win just nine seats, half of its current total, the poll found.

On Thursday, Gantz began the first step in his election campaign by publishing a video on his party’s Facebook page.

Unveiling a party slogan of “Israel before all,” with a color scheme of military khaki, Gantz gave the first, albeit limited, glimpse into the sort of election campaign he hopes to run.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz seen with members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh Ha’ayin, during a protest against the nation-state law, January 14, 2019. (Flash90)

A spokesperson for the party would not say when Gantz plans to give a first public address, but told The Times of Israel that the release of the video and establishment of social media channels were the “first step” of the campaign.

Gantz formally launched his Israel Resilience party late last month, but has been largely mum on his positions.

On Monday, Gantz gave the first indication of his largely unknown political views, breaking his silence with a vow to “fix” the controversial nation-state law to help the Druze community.

Speaking to Druze activists who congregated outside his home in Rosh Ha’ayin to say that the law is discriminatory toward the country’s non-Jews, Gantz said that Israel should work to strengthen bonds with its Druze community, which he said was a valued segment of Israeli society.

Likud ministers responded by blaming Gantz for the death of Druze Border Police officer who bled to death awaiting an IDF rescue in the first week of the Second Intifada in October 2000. Gantz at the time was the IDF chief.

The nation-state law enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members — many of whom serve in the Israeli army — say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

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