Two ex-Israeli Army Chiefs Join Group That Vows Fight Against Politics of Fear

Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi are linking up with former Education Minister Shay Piron’s 'nonpolitical' movement.

Israeli generals Gabi Ashkenazi, left, and Benny Gantz in 2010.
David Bachar

Two former heads of the Israel Defense Forces, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, have joined forces with a group led by former Education Minister Shay Piron that could form the kernel of a new centrist political movement.

The new group, Pnima (Inward), is an attempt to bring together religious and secular people and discuss their connection to Israeli society, said a person familiar with the movement. The founders describe the group as a “cultural values organization.”

Piron, who resigned from the Knesset and left politics in September, says the new movement will act “in an attempt to create a new Israeli narrative not based on fear and apprehension what the Israeli agenda is and what can be done here besides defending oneself.”

The movement’s launch was reported Thursday by Channel 2 News, which quoted Piron as saying the group had no political intentions.

“This is not a political movement, it has no goal to bring down anyone, certainly not [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Its goal is to set an agenda of hope, not fear, when fear is being sown from all directions,” Channel 2 reported Piron as saying.

Gantz and Ashkenazi did not respond to questions on the matter.

The news comes on top of two major political events at the annual Herzliya Conference on Thursday. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who resigned last month, said he would run for prime minister as part of a center-right party he plans to set up. Ya'alon has also rejected a politics of fear.

Kahlon and Ya'alon during a weekly cabinet meeting, May 4, 2016.
Emil Salman

Also Thursday, Tzipi Livni, who heads Zionist Union’s Hatnuah faction, announced her intention to establish a “centrist democratic bloc” for the next Knesset election.

Meanwhile, since Netanyahu has already won his party’s support to lead it in the next election, former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar might rethink his options for the next vote.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud minister who now leads the center-right Kulanu party, has said he will remain Kulanu chief for the next election.

Opinion polls show that if Kahlon, Sa’ar and Ya’alon joined forces, they could threaten Netanyahu at the ballot box. But most of the Knesset seats they would win would come from Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party.

There thus might be a crowded field of forces targeting two groups of swing voters in the next Knesset election.

One bloc in the center is worth at least 10 of the Knesset’s 120 seats; these voters drift from one party to another. In the past, these Israelis have voted for parties such as the secular Shinui, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert’s Kadima, Labor and Yesh Atid.

Ya’alon could attract undecided right-wing voters who in recent years have shifted between Likud, Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. Ya’alon’s possible new party and Kulanu are also based on these two groups of voters and Kulanu won only 10 seats in the last election.

A major change could well come from a new center-left bloc. A few months ago Netanyahu broached the idea of establishing an Israeli “Republican Party” a right-wing bloc that would include Habayit Hayehudi and possibly even Yisrael Beiteinu in the next election.

Meanwhile, Livni’s proposal on Thursday to expand Zionist Union and include other parties or other key figures from outside the Knesset could also change the next election campaign.

“If a center bloc arises, or a center-left one, before the next election, it will push Netanyahu and Bennett to establish a right-wing bloc too," said a senior Zionist Union official. "In such a situation, the battle will be largely between the blocs and not between parties, and between two prominent candidates for prime minister.”