WASHINGTON - Benny Gantz, the head of the Kahol Lavan party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival in the coming election, said Monday the "Western Wall is long enough to accommodate everyone," as he spoke before the AIPAC policy conference in Washington.
Israel has long wrestled with Diaspora Jews and non-Orthodox streams within the religion regarding an egalitarian prayer space that would allow men and women to pray together at the site, as well as all denominations within Judaism.
In a jab likely aimed at Netanyahu, Gantz said the "divisive dialogue tearing our strong nation apart, may serve political purposes, but is shredding the fabric that holds us together," and that the ability of Jewish people to stand united is their "secret weapon."
"In Bergen-Belsen no-one asked who is reform and who is conservative; who is orthodox and who is secular," he said, referring to the Nazi concentration camp in northern Germany where his mother was held. "Before going into battle I never checked to see who had a kippa under their helmet."
Gantz said Israel, under his leadership, will strive for peace with any "honest and willing Arab leader," but stressed that Jerusalem will always be "Israel's united and eternal capital," and that Israel would never withdraw from the Golan Heights.
Addressing Iran, Gantz said he would not allow it to establish a presence in Syria or develop nuclear weapons. "You know me well," he said, "and not because of my cellphone," a dig at a recent reveal that the Shin Bet security service told the former general Iranians had hacked his personal phone.
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Recalling his military record, Gantz noted what he saw as the unique nature of Jewish soldiers. "Our battle orders include the rules of engagement and the Ten Commandments. The computer code of the F-35 and the moral code of the prophets of Israel."
Gantz said it is this moral code which he led on a secret mission to Sudan 28 years prior, to rescue Ethiopian Jews "who had fled persecution and murder."
He spoke of a young three-year-old girl, carried by her aunt through the desert. "That girl is here today," he said as he presented Israeli lawmaker Pnina Tamano-Shata, who is on the Kahol Lavan slate for the election.
"I am so proud to have you in my party, and in this room with me today," he said, adding Israel has the "moral duty to ensure that every Jew around the world is safe."
Gantz assured his government would have no radicals from either side of the political map. "There will be no ‘Kahanists’ running our country; There will be no racists leading our state institutions; There will be no corruption leading our way."