Analysis

Gantz’s Whispering in the Left-wingers’ Ears Is Sounding Better Than Ever to Them

Nitzan Horowitz and Amir Peretz increasingly like their chances of helping forge a center-left government, instead of Benny Gantz forming one with a Netanyahu-less Likud

Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz around the time they formed the Labor-Gesher-Meretz electoral alliance, January 2020.
Amir Peretz's Twitter account

Toward the end of last week, left-wing chiefs Amir Peretz and Nitzan Horowitz met – separately – with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, who promised them legislation that would compensate them generously if their joint slate wins fewer seats in the March 2 election than their current size (six for Labor-Gesher and five for Meretz).

Gantz promised that Kahol Lavan would pass a law letting four ministers from a party – instead of one minister today – resign from the Knesset so that the next people on the slate could become legislators. Moreover, when a minister from a ticket made up of two or more parties resigns from the Knesset, the person to enter parliament will be the next person from his or her party, not necessarily the next person on the joint slate.

This is largely designed to pave the way for Meretz’s Esawi Freige (currently No. 11 on the Labor-Gesher-Meretz ticket) to get back into the Knesset. Freige, unfortunately for him, has become the symbol of his party’s alienation from the principle of Jewish-Arab partnership.

Gantz told Horowitz and Peretz that he sees them as “natural partners.” If he tries to form a government and invites in Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, they won’t veto it. The process of whitewashing Lieberman has been completed. Gantz, Horowitz and Peretz will hope that he won’t reject them.

“Just don’t go with Likud,” Horowitz implored Gantz. “Will they try to help you? Will they work with you? From the very first day they’ll try to trip you up. We won’t.”

I asked Horowitz about Gantz, who last year considered a forming a government with Likud. Horowitz replied: “It seems to me that his music has changed.”

A circus and a jungle

Before Benjamin Netanyahu submitted his immunity request to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, he consulted with Edelstein and some of his more intelligent ministers – like Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin – about whether it was the right thing to do.

The advice was for Netanyahu to drop this effort. As Edelstein told him, you aren’t going to win immunity from your corruption indictments, not in this Knesset and not in the next one. As the speaker sees it, the immunity provision in Israeli law is for protecting the Knesset minority from abuse and arbitrariness by the regime, not for protecting the strongest person in the country.

Speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 2020.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Levin and Elkin thought the same, and they saw the potential for damage to Likud. The prime minister, of course, submitted his request all the same. Maybe he was impressed by the roars of encouragement from Likud’s Miki Zohar, who pressed him to do it. Zohar is the main winner in the immunity battle. Maybe he was thinking more about himself than the defendant.

It’s hard to know what Edelstein was thinking when he gave his responsible advice to Netanyahu. Was he imagining the inferno he would face as the top official in parliament? Even if that scenario crossed his mind, it’s doubtful it occurred to him that overnight he’d become an enemy, a leftist who joined up with Kahol Lavan.

The path that Edelstein chose is a middle way: To protest angrily against the opinion of Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, but also to state that he would honor it. Honor it, but also strive to delay a meeting of the Knesset House Committee that would consider the immunity issue.

The speaker was accused of cowardice. What people might see as a lack of courage sometimes indicates a true, clean position; that’s how he believed he had to behave, he told Likudniks.

Edelstein discovered that in political life, sometimes there’s no alternative but to take a side and stick to it. He’ll probably say to himself that if he’s attacked equally from the left and the right, from Kahol Lavan and Likud (and of course from sources at Balfour Street, remarks that are limply denied by the prime minister’s spokesmen), the purity of his decision will be proved.

In fact, Edelstein has told his people that what has happened since then at the one meeting of the House Committee only proves he was right: The immunity discussion was a circus, a jungle.

Ah yes, a circus and a jungle. Nothing we haven’t seen before. But seeing Zohar, the Montesquieu of the modern era, waving his arms in the committee room, hoarsely trying to defend the separation of powers and democracy, and bellowing about the “minority” was one of the most crystallizing moments in the outgoing Knesset.

A question of character

The final chord of Stav Shaffir’s political path – a 15-minute solo appearance on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard – was more honorable than the whole concert that preceded it. She decided not to run at the head of her own party and for the first time put the interests of the center-left bloc ahead of her megalomania, aspirations and pretensions.

Her crash, ever since she left the Labor Party in July, was just as meteoric as the rise that made her a key figure on the left immediately after the 2013 election.

Stav Shaffir announcing she wouldn't run for the Knesset, Tel Aviv, January 15, 2020.
Meged Gozani

In the past five months she couldn’t dodge a single land mine – ones that she laid herself. First she got her colleagues in Meretz and Democratic Israel loathing her, then she bad-mouthed them (“dinosaurs,” “hacks”). In the final week she ran an online campaign against them, and right before the end, she called the emerging slate an attempt “to distance the public from politics.”

She’s “the public.” Top people in the new slate – Peretz, Horowitz, Itzik Shmuli, Tamar Zandberg, Yair Golan and Ilan Gilon – are “politics.”

Shaffir is like that person who dug a grave and when the grave was too deep to get out of blamed the onlookers with blobs of mud on their faces. In the time-out she's beginning, she should ponder the precedent she has set: She’s the first politician to be deposed because of a lousy character.

Yevarkan, a name to remember

Gadi Yevarkan has swapped the 30 seconds of fame he won when he kissed his mother’s feet on inauguration day at the Knesset. He traded it for a defection from Kahol Lavan to Likud, and he’ll find out that in the Knesset they scorn people like him.

He’ll feel most of the scorn in his old-new home. The term “Kalanterism” – after Rahamim Kalanter, who in the ‘50s swapped parties in the Jerusalem government so he could become a deputy mayor – will be replaced by Yevarkanism.

Gadi Yevarkan, who returned to Likud from Kahol Lavan, with Benjamin Netanyahu, January 15, 2020.
Likud

But Netanyahu knew what he was doing, whereas Gantz fell asleep on his watch. Pollsters believe that Yevarkan brought to Kahol Lavan more than one Knesset seat from voters in the Ethiopian community. The elderly religious leaders listen to him. They don’t watch television and they don’t read the caustic political commentaries.

Netanyahu is going where the votes are. Yevarkan is one of those places: He’ll tell the heads of the Ethiopian community that he has a promise from the prime minister to appoint him a minister – which Gantz didn’t promise – and they’ll do what’s necessary.

Netanyahu’s parachuting of Yevarkan into the 20th slot on the Likud slate also had an interesting byproduct: It moved members of Gideon Saar’s rival camp – Yoav Kish, Sharren Haskel and Michal Shir – down a slot.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu intended to use his prerogative to put someone else in the middle of the slate. At the last moment, he changed his mind. His fear of angering his supporters between the 20th and 40th spots (Amir Ohana, David Bitan, Miki Zohar), and the decapitations from previous elections (May Golan, Osnat Mark, Ariel Kellner) overcame his lust for revenge against the Gideonites.