Analysis |

Gantz Knows the Premiership Is Lost and Now His Party Is Raising the Stakes

Passing legislation to keep protests away from Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, to which Gantz's party didn't oppose, was the last of too many straws, bringing Kahol Lavan to its limit

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a Home Front Command base in central Israel, July 2020.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a Home Front Command base in central Israel, July 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

All 17 remaining lawmakers in the Kahol Lavan-Labor-Derech Eretz bloc would wholeheartedly have signed Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir's resignation letter, citing distrust in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Most of them would have struck a harsher tone and opted for less polite language.

This list includes the party's top members: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, though not necessarily in that order. They are the ones who know Netanyahu best, and have experienced first-hand, more so than any other minister, his abysmal nastiness, the depth of his lies and the damage caused by his manipulation. They're with Zamir in spirit, but not in body. Still, something has changed.

Haaretz podcast: Israel in lockdown limbo, and what's really stuffed in Bibi's laundry suitcasesCredit: Haaretz

Over the past week, the Kahol Lavan gang has reached its political limit. Approving legislation to keep protests away from the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem (or the Keep Sara Calm Act, as it could also be called), which they were part of, was the last of too many straws.

The partnership between Kahol Lavan and Likud, which seemed from the start like the cohabitation of a school of piranhas and goldfish, effectively lapsed on Friday. The chain of events surrounding Israel's second nationwide coronavirus lockdown and the legislation to restrict protests sparked disillusionment and sobered up even the most optimistic, well-intentioned Kahol Lavan members.

What has come to be called the "national unity government" or "coronavirus government" has become unbearable. Now Kahol Lavan members fully understand that Netanyahu cannot, and certainly would not, change his stripes or have any sort of normal relationship with them. Decency and integrity are obscene words in the vernacular of the greatest of cynics.

Gantz and his peers now know they will never reach the highly anticipated rotation for prime minister. Even if they do, it would not come about peacefully. Kahol Lavan understands their stock has plummeted. Soon enough, hardly anyone will want to touch it, even if it were being handed out for free. That's why they're raising the stakes.

The justice minister's announcement on forming a selection committee to appoint a permanent state prosecutor is exactly that. The committee will be headed by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who is undoubtedly so dear to the Netanyahu family (Yair Netanyahu broke the internet the other day when he nicknamed him 'Mendel-bitch').

This process, heralded by Gantz, won't lead to the appointment of a state prosecutor. In the end, the government is meant to approve the nominee presented by the justice minister, but as long as Netanyahu stays in office it won't happen. This show of independence isn't designed to appoint a prosecutor, but to remind Kahol Lavan voters that the party – slaughtered in all latest election polls – is still alive. For now, at least.

More acts of defiance can surely be expected down the road. Forgotten promises, shelved principles, and discarded commitments will all be pulled out of the archives and laid on the table. Kahol Lavan is determined to pick a fight. "Anyone who doesn't like it," Gantz said in his Friday statement, "can set a date for another election." Surely, not your typical Gantz remark, but a truthful one: He has no intention to dismantle the government, depart and leave Netanyahu to his scheming.

The announcement on the selection committee, which surely didn't bring calm to the Balfour residence, was meant to be released on Friday morning. It was delayed, and at 12 P.M. Zamir announced his resignation. The committee drama was completely swallowed up by the commotion over the resignation. Poor things, they couldn't even get this one right.

It seems Zamir won't be the last one to resign. He could no longer abide the lie of a coronavirus government run by a man whose top priority is evading the law rather than the virus.

Zamir took a step that shows integrity, but his personal interest can't be overlooked. He is patiently awaiting the next Tel Aviv mayoral election. He has run against incumbent Ron Huldai in the past and was defeated. Next time, Huldai may not run, and possibly skip on to national politics. Escaping this government, which is widely unpopular in Tel Aviv, is a good starting point for Zamir.

Zamir did the right thing, and gave his colleague, Science, Technology and Space Minister Izhar Shay a lesson in leadership. At the end of last week, Shay announced that he plans to resign, and even provided clear reasoning. But then he got cold feet. Two days after his announcement, against the backdrop of the legislation limiting protests, he published a lengthy post on Facebook, confessing his heartache and hardship. He told Haaretz he couldn't sleep the night the bill limiting protests was approved by the Knesset, but that he must "work from within."

Zamir submitted a resignation letter, without beating around the bush. Now, should Shay resign, too, he would be seen as nothing more than a copy-cat.

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