Gantz and Lapid Are Keeping a Low Profile This Time Around, but a Strategy Change Is in the Works

An inside source admits that if the party wants to win this time around, things have to look differently and shift rightward

Kahol Lavan leaders Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon and Gaby Ashkenazi in a press conference, Tel Aviv, March 18, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Several people who joined opposition party Kahol Lavan, headed by three former top generals, felt that Haaretz’s weekend editorial cartoon by Amos Biderman hit all too close to home.

The three generals, the great hope on which the party had based itself, are shown sprawled languidly on couches – doing absolutely nothing. Party co-chair member Yair Lapid – who has ironically come to appear to be the only fighter in the cockpit – urges them: “We must embitter the life of the coalition!” to which his co-leader Benny Gantz answers, “But not today.”

>> Read more: This what Israel's center-left has to do if it wants to take Netanyahu down in the next election | Analysis ■ Everything you need to know about Benny Gantz, the general who declared victory over Netanyahu

Haaretz Cartoon, June 13, 2019.
Amos Biderman

In recent weeks, the three decorated warriors seem to have completely abandoned the field of battle, leaving it to the other parties in order to keep a low profile until decisions are made regarding their campaign for September 17 election. “It was Benny’s decision,” said a source in the party. “He’s the one who sets strategy and decides how things go. No doubt, our public image should be different, but nobody will remember these times when we launch a clear campaign with uniform messages.”

None of the four – Lapid or the three generals – have talked much with the press or released any announcements in recent weeks. They didn’t so much as peep after serious developments, such as the comments made by the incoming Justice Minister Amir Ohana.

Gantz himself has become the head of the opposition, even if he wasn’t elected to the position in any orderly fashion and has neglected to publicly engage in politics. Most of what he’s had to say lately is about the recurrence of escalating hostilities with Gaza.

Kahol Lavan for its part has focused mainly on “social” campaigns: Its members on the Knesset’s Finance Committee led the fight to subsidize afternoon daycare for elementary schoolchildren, which drove Netanyahu to agree. Nine Kahol Lavan Knesset members participated in the gay pride parade in Tel Aviv last Friday, and on Monday, the party will be holding a march from the prime minister’s house to the Finance Ministry in protest of the approaching closure of Sde Dov airport in northern Tel Aviv.

Sources within the party project that this low media profile will vanish once a strategy for the next election is agreed upon. During the last campaign, party leaders felt that the proliferating number of presenters and experts just hurt its effort to stay on-message.

“Since Kahol Lavan consists of three different parties, we were torn between strategists and messages pulling us in different directions,” said the Kahol Lavan source. “Things just got worse and worse until the decision was made to give the reins to Lapid. He’s more or less the only person in Kahol Lavan who understands politics and knows how to operate in this arena. The decision to give the responsibility to him did well by the party.”

On Sunday, Kahol Lavan convened its members in Tel Aviv for a workshop to prepare for the new campaign. The party’s pollster Israel Bachar was responsible for reviewing the results of April's election; Knesset members Chili Tropper and Karin Elharar for presenting conclusions from the last campaign; and party spokesman Ilan Ostfeld was asked to present Kahol Lavan’s messages for the next election.

This time around, Kahol Lavan intends to turn rightward, hoping to gain voters disappointed in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and lead them towards the center-left. Mainly they hope to attract people who believed Netanyahu when he promised not to use the Knesset to evade indictment, and then discovered that he’s been doing exactly that. On the other hand, the party probably won’t be launching arrows at the Netanyahus personally, which is Lapid’s thinking too. Kahol Lavan probably won’t even bring up Sara Netanyahu’s charge for “receiving something by intentionally exploiting another person’s mistake in a way that doesn’t constitute fraud”. 

A key demographic are voters of Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party. They were let down by his decision to rejoin Likud, breaking the promise to constitute a “sane right wing”. Kahol Lavan will also be investing in increasing its appeal in outlying communities, where the party did poorly in the last election. Gantz’s achievements were in the big cities and especially in Tel Aviv, where the center-left won 67 percent of the vote. The people in Kahol Lavan don’t think they can completely change views in the periphery, but they hope to have some impact, adding votes to their bloc.