With short, ‘impactful’ speech, can Gantz transform from riddle into answer?

The enigmatic ex-IDF chief’s first public address will last just 15 minutes, but could have profound effects on Israel’s political scene

Raoul Wootliff

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

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)
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)

Benny Gantz started his day Tuesday with a visit to the cemetery in the central Israel community of Kfar Ahim, where he grew up.

“Know very well where you came from and where you are going to,” he wrote on Twitter shortly after, in a paraphrase of a famous passage from the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers, attaching a photo of him sitting next to the graves of his parents.

By the end of the day, the former IDF chief of staff is set finally reveal to the Israeli public not just where he came from but also where he hopes to go, and where he hopes to take Israel.

After months of near-silence, Gantz, taking to the stage at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center, will deliver his first public address as a political candidate, officially launching his newly founded Israel Resilience Party’ election campaign.

Despite Gantz being considered one of the only possible threats to a fourth straight victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April’s election, little is known about his political convictions. The snippets of campaign materials that Israel Resilience have put out and the brief public comments he has made have appear to be an attempt to place him firmly in the Israeli center, but policy proposals have remained thin, at best.

“There is no more right or left, just Israel — before all else,” repeatedly chimes the chorus to his party’s jingle, released on Monday, bookending platitudes like “the power of togetherness” and a vow to “put everything aside and think like patriots.”

In perhaps — and almost ironically — the clearest indication of his political leanings, a series of campaign videos put out last week presented Gantz as tough on terror but willing to try and make peace.

One clip, for example, took credit for the IDF’s destruction of 6,231 Hamas targets in the 2014 Gaza war under Gantz’s command, boasting that “parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age.” Another said that Israel needed to reach a deal with the Palestinians in order to end mandatory military conscription: “In another 25 years, do we still want to be sending our children off to fight? No. What will we tell them? That we didn’t do anything? That we didn’t try?” Gantz tells the camera emphatically.

The ambiguity ends Tuesday night, a spokesperson for Israel Resilience told The Times of Israel. Speaking to hundreds of supporters, “Gantz will address all the relevant issues within the political and social realm.”

The speech, however, is set to last just 15 minutes, the spokesperson added, promising nonetheless that “everything that people have been waiting to hear — they will get a first glimpse of tonight. It’s set to be very impactful.”

In the month since early elections were called, Gantz has undoubtedly been the hottest new addition to the crowded political field, enjoying more media coverage that any other fresh candidate, and the lion’s share of the speculation and rumors too.

Tuesday night will determine whether his 15 minutes of fame can last longer.

Gantz could indeed have a profound effect on the future of Israel’s politics, but the immediate impact of the speech will likely be on his party itself.

According to Hebrew media reports on Monday night, Gantz will say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government is “bad, corrupt and divisive,” and announce his intention to replace Netanyahu by winning the premiership. A recent draft of Gantz’s speech, reported by Channel 12 news, includes a vow not to sit in a government whose leader has been indicted.

Then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Navy ceremony on September 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

He will also reportedly say that Israel “is not a kingdom, and has no royal family, a king or a queen” — an apparent reference to Netanyahu’s lengthy hold on power, as well as the increasing involvement of his wife, Sara, and his son, Yair, in matters of state. “Lengthy rule leads to corruption,” he will say, and will promise to limit the prime ministership to two terms, Channel 12 said. (Gantz’s party said the leaked material was from a non-approved draft of the speech.)

According to the reports, Gantz won’t rule out sitting in a Netanyahu government altogether. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly set to announce in February plans to indict the prime minister, pending a hearing; if so, however, it could be another year before a final indictment is filed.

Still, taking an inherently anti-Netanyahu stance will no doubt increase the attacks that the ruling Likud party has launched on Gantz in recent weeks, and could significantly cut his support.

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