Israeli political leaders from the right and left were quick to slam Benny Gantz Tuesday evening after the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff launched his campaign with a much-anticipated speech after weeks of silence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that it was "another speech by Lapid," referring to Yesh Atid's leader Yair Lapid, who is regularly mocked by rivals for lack of substance in public statements. "Whoever says he's neither right nor left – is left."
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Naftali Bennett, Israel's education minister and the co-founder of Hayamin Hehadash party, said Gantz is "a clear leftist" and slammed him for claiming he would strike down Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, stating: "Gantz spoke about defeating Sinwar but he's the one who throned him. It's a danger to make him responsible again for Israel's security."
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Culture Minister Miri Regev, of Netanyahu's party, said Gantz’s speech was “so ridiculous.” In an interview with the Israel News Company, she added: “Looks like Benny Gantz doesn’t know there’s a democracy here, not a royal court. The citizens of the State of Israel elected Netanyahu … and they will again in April.”
“Why wouldn’t he say what he wants to do with Judea and Samaria?” Regev added, referring to Gantz’s ambiguous talking points on West Bank settlements. “Perhaps he doesn’t want to say who he is?” she said, adding Gantz must be “on the political left.”
Referring to Gantz’s comments about Netanyahu’s corruption cases, Regev claimed: “He says he lives in a democratic country and he’s an honest person. So why don’t you let the prime minister the right to innocence?”
Another Likud minister, Ofir Akunis, said: "We heard many slogans, but no stances. Blurring and hiding agendas is neither leadership nor statesmanship. It is obvious that when you have leftist views, you have to hide them from the public to gather votes."
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party reacted with a video it posted on Facebook, saying: "We've waited, anticipated, bitten our nails, and then it came – 20,000 arrogant, condescending, detached words. Zero plans, zero ideas, zero solutions. The conclusion in clear – zero for caring."
“Courage is needed not only on the battlefield but also in politics,” she said. “Gantz said nice things, but it is unforgivable that in such a dangerous time, when a prime minister is embroiled in criminal acts and smashes democracy for his own needs, he wouldn’t say unequivocally that he wouldn’t sit in a government led by Netanyahu.”
Former opposition leader and Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni congratulated Gantz for his speech. "It is undoubtable that the state comes before us, and the important question is what sort of Israel we leave behind … That's what we've been struggling for these past years. The real test is ahead of us – what each of us do act to get Israel back on track."
Meretz MK Esawi Freige called Gantz “the Seinfeld of politics, with a speech about nothing and a party of nothing. All Gantz had to say was that he doesn’t like Arabs and doesn’t like Netanyahu”.
“That’s the message of the cliché, hollow sppech of the one claiming to represent hope,” he said, claiming Gantz presented no “real plan to end the conflict.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich, recently elected chairman of right-wing National Union, tweeted even before Gantz gave his speech: "The people has had enough of empty words and slogans, it wants representatives who will speak the truth and lead the way."
'We are a great nation, but troubling winds blow among us'
Speaking at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, Gantz said: "Netanyahu is no king, his government sows division and incitement."
Continuing his assault on Netanyahu, Gantz said: "A prime minister cannot preside over Israel when an indictment has been filed against him," referring to the pending decision by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit whether to file an indictment against the premier regarding the corruption cases he is embroiled in.
Gantz said he is running for prime minister because "I fear for Israel. We are a great nation, but troubling winds blow among us.”
“The struggle between right and left rips us apart … the tension between Jews and Arabs tears us apart," the former IDF chief added.
Describing his strategy for the country, Gantz said that a government he would preside over will "strive toward peace and not miss an opportunity to get to regional peace."
Addressing regional threats Israel is grappling with, Gantz taunted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, saying he knows the latter "wants to surround Israel. I will thwart your scheme. I will act against you politically, financially and militarily and if the message doesn't come through, actions will speak. We don't threaten Iran's sovereignty but won't take any threats to Israel's."
Gantz also spoke about the Gaza front, saying that he will "allow any humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza, assist the economic development of it but won't allow cash payments in suitcases," a reference to Israel's recent move to okay a Qatari cash infusion into the Strip.
He went on to say that "terrorist leaders must know that Ahmed Ja'abari [a senior Hamas commander Israel killed in in 2012 when Gantz was IDF chief] wasn't the first, and doesn't have to be the last. You don't score points for talking, but for action."