Analysis

Gantz, Exhausted, Has Given in to Netanyahu’s Relentless Campaigning

Unlike his fellow Kahol Lavan leaders, the former general doesn't hate Netanyahu enough to stand against the premier's endless electioneering in the time of the coronavirus

Benny Gantz leaving the stage after giving a statement to the press, January 25, 2020.
Ofer Vaknin

Benny Gantz is tired. This isn’t what he signed up for when he first launched his campaign and political career 14 months and three elections ago. This was time spent in unending electioneering but, more than anything, what sapped his energy was the relentless smear campaign orchestrated by Benjamin Netanyahu.

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He was accused of being a mentally unstable pervert who filmed himself masturbating and then had his phone hacked by the Iranians. He was slammed for traitorous tendencies for being prepared to cooperate in government with the “terror-supporting” members of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties. Each media appearance was dissected for stuttering and mistakes, and edited versions pumped online.

And to top it off, Israel, along with the rest of the world, is now facing a pandemic and most of the public just wants the politicians to finally get their act together. Gantz is tired and doesn’t want to go on fighting. Most of us would feel the same in his place.

On the face of it, the deal he’s reached with Netanyahu – which has yet to be signed – is reasonable. A promise from Netanyahu that he’ll replace him as prime minister in 18 months, and in the meantime serve as number two.

Gantz loyalists get senior cabinet posts, including, crucially, the Justice Ministry, from where they will be able to ensure that when the courts return to normal, Netanyahu will indeed go on trial for his graft indictment. And perhaps most importantly, an end to Israel’s interminable political deadlock, when the country inarguably urgently needs stable governance.

How can Gantz give up now, people ask. How can he give in to the man who smeared him so viciously? The truth is that Gantz, while remaining a fierce critic of Netanyahu’s conduct, does not share what many of his now former partners in Kahol Lavan have: a burning hatred of the man. He led the campaign to replace Netanyahu over the past 14 months, but it was never personal for him.

As Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Gantz had a relatively harmonious relationship with Netanyahu. Unlike two other members of Kahol Lavan’s “cockpit” – Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon – he wasn’t summarily tossed out of a job by Netanyahu.

Gantz is by nature a mild mannered and measured man. He doesn’t have the kind of passions that are necessary to take down a prime minister and probably not those necessary to become one.

The initial exchange between the two men was stormy when they met on Monday night last week, at President Reuven Rivlin’s residence, after Gantz was asked to form a government. He was still incandescent from the toxic treatment meted out by Netanyahu during the election campaigns.

But Netanyahu quickly mollified him and convinced him they have to work together now, in a time of acute danger from the plague. Netanyahu took advantage of Gantz’s sense of patriotism and exhaustion. 

Netanyahu isn’t tired. He’s a constant campaigner and hasn’t been fazed by the three elections over the past 12 months. If anything, they energized him. Over the last three weeks he’s been leading Israel’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic while working incessantly to prevent a Gantz government and the legislation which would have forbidden him from remaining an indicted prime minister.

In an interview on Saturday night, he claimed to be “dedicating 98 percent of the time to the coronavirus and only 2 percent to politics.” Two percent of Netanyahu’s time obviously goes a long way, but this campaign started long ago.

It took Netanyahu 14 months to wear Gantz down, but he’s finally done it.