Gantz Says He Would Back Former Ally Lapid's Bid to Lead anti-Netanyahu Bloc

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Benny Gantz (sitting) shakes Yair Lapid's hand during a campaign event in Tel Aviv, December 12, 2019.
Benny Gantz (sitting) shakes Yair Lapid's hand during a campaign event in Tel Aviv, December 12, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod
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Haaretz

One day after calling for a broad, cross-party alliance to defeat Netanyahu, Kahol Lavan party leader Benny Gantz said Tuesday that current opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid would be fitting to lead the bloc as the country heads into Knesset elections on March 23.

“Yair has gone a very long way in Israeli politics, and he can head the bloc,” Gantz told Kan Reshet Bet public radio, “and if that’s what we decide, then [the answer is] yes.”

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Gantz’s radio interview followed a speech on Monday in which he called for the political camp representing opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to unite. He called for a meeting among the leaders of the parties of the political camp.

“We will find what all of us have in common,” said Gantz, who is the defense minister and alternate prime minister in the outgoing government. “I call upon everyone for whom Israel is important, on everyone who won’t go with Bibi [Netanyahu], to forgo their egos and unite. I am prepared to sacrifice a lot, as I have already proven, so that Bibi leaves. If ego goes, Bibi will go.”

Officials in Yesh Atid have not ruled out Gantz’s suggestion. “We will make every effort to lead to linkups that will lead to a sane and liberal government that will change the country,” the party said in response.

However, other parties have been less forthcoming. Prof. Yaron Zelekha, Israel's former accountant general and a top economist, who formed The Economic Party, dismissed Gantz's calls for unity, and called on him to step aside:

"The economy is in a deep crisis, and politicians are running around like mice to find a job in the next Knesset. I am not looking for a job offer, certainly not alongside those who were complicit in abandoning the middle class and the self-employed while they themselves enjoyed a full and secure salary," he said. 

Meanwhile, Ofer Shelah, the former right-hand man of Yair Lapid who has since formed his own party, also received an invitation to meet Gantz on Tuesday night, but slammed the move as a publicity stunt in an interview Kan Bet public radio.

"Shelah left Yesh Atid so that he would not compromise his ideology. Sitting with Gantz would do just that," his party said in a statement.

Asked about a comment in an interview on Channel 12 two weeks ago in which he said that Yair Lapid “hates people,” Gantz replied, “We are all human beings. Come on, let’s move on.” Gantz expressed regret that Lapid was insulted by the remark and said, “It’s not in the negative sense of the word.”

Before March 2020, Kahol Lavan was a joint slate that included Yesh Atid, which split with Gantz’s party after Gantz decided to enter the current coalition government with Netanyahu. The coalition agreement provided that Gantz would replace Netanyahu as prime minister in a rotation arrangement in November of this year. Since the dissolution of the Knesset in late December, and the scheduling of new elections, Kahol Lavan has attracted low levels of support in public opinion polls, but Gantz confirmed on Tuesday that he intends to run even if Kahol Lavan runs separately rather than on a slate of parties. “I want to continue to offer myself to the State of Israel until it tells me ‘no,’” he said.

Most of the recent polls commissioned by Israel’s major television news outlets project that Kahol Lavan would get five seats if elections were held now – 28 seats fewer than the party received in last year’s election. The most recent poll, which was conducted by Channel 13 News, gives the party four seats, the minimum required for Knesset representation.

In his speech on Monday, Gantz accused Netanyahu of cheating him and cheating the electorate. “He cheated one time too many. I shook the hand of the man whom I promised to replace. I shook the hand of a serial violator of promises. I made a mistake.”

On Tuesday, Gantz clarified that mistake was trusting that Netanyahu would “put politics aside and take on a certain statesmanlike” manner, not joining the coalition. “I believed that there was a chance that it would be different. I am sorry, because I submitted myself to this war and the others didn’t.”

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