Analysis | At Memorial Rally, Benny Gantz Tries to Fill Yitzhak Rabin's Shoes

But going past the declarations of victory and a certain sense of hope, in real life, Gantz doesn’t have a government

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The heads of the Labor party and of Meretz, Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz, were both disappointed not to be given the opportunity to speak at the rally marking the anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzkak Rabin’s assassination. But they shouldn't have.

The goal of the rally, consciously or not, was to put Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz into Rabin’s shoes, to present him to the world, and especially the leftists assembled in the square as the latest leader of their camp. That audience is Ashkenazi and secular, Tel Avivian and mostly well off. They come every year in anger to share their sorrow over the loss of their Israel, which Rabin represented.

Gantz met the challenge quite honorably. And not only visually, espousing the gifts he was given – tall, handsome, blue-eyed. He, who throughout his brief and intense political career has avoided defining a political identity (not to mention one in which he could be suspected of being a leftist), spoke repeatedly of peace, and mentioned the Arabs as an integral part of Israeli society. In a democratic country, this would be considered as standard as a running water, but in Israel, it is no less than crazy leftist radicalism. And so Gantz, inspired by the true nature of Rabin, who eventually turned from “break their arms and legs” to “a soldier in the army of peace,” tried to cast his speech in a military and security light. After all, he was an army chief of staff.

To complete the sought-after blend, Gantz reiterated Rabin’s famous declaration with his army ID number and a pathos-filled declaration: “I, who sent troops into fire and soldiers to their death, say today: We are embarking on a war which leaves no dead or wounded, in which there is no blood and no suffering. It is the only war in which one can take part with pleasure, the war for peace” (to come out a bit less leftist, he added the words “at home” after the word peace).

Anyone who missed the message got a more sweeping clarification when the former director general of the Prime Minister’s Office under Rabin, Shimon Sheves – who was convicted of fraud and breach of trust, offenses that are not unique to one side of the political map – turned to Gantz and declared that he is indeed like Rabin. Sheves asked the audience to turn on their cellphones, like so many lighted candles, because according to him, Gantz’s electoral victory meant the country lost on the night of Rabin's murder was back.

People hold up mobile phones, like lit candles, at a memorial for Yitzhak Rabin, Tel Aviv, November 2, 2019Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Yaron Zilberman, the director of the award-winning film “Incitement,” parts of which were shown at the rally, spoke against incitement and violence, but in fact devoted most of his speech denigrating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without mentioning him by name. That merchandise is in very high demand among this audience. Hatred for Netanyahu is the most powerful way of bringing the side together, despite the fact that all the speakers emphasized the importance of making “peace among ourselves.” At least we got rid of one thing this year: the false pretense that the event is statesmanlike. This is a political rally run by people, who, although still defeated, feel less despondent because they know the days of their nemesis are numbered

But going past the declarations of victory and a certain sense of hope, in real life, Gantz doesn’t have a government, and will probably not be able to conjure one. At this point it’s too early to tell whether this handsome fellow is indeed the right person to lead a camp that has been longing for another leader for many years, like an orphan in the desert. But one can't help but admire his courage for putting on a suit that, the last time it was worn, was pierced with three bullets.