Benny Gantz said on Monday that his election rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made a mistake in barring Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from the country, adding that the congresswomen would have seen that the West Bank is "the second best place" for Mideast Arabs. (For the latest election polls - click here)
Speaking at an English-language event in Tel Aviv, the Kahol Lavan leader said the two Democratic representatives should have been allowed to enter Israel and “see with their own eyes” that, if one is not a Saudi billionaire, “The best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is in Israel ... and the second best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is the West Bank.”
Gantz, however, added that “everybody who cooperates with BDS is operating against the State of Israel” and called the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement “a form of anti-Semitism.”
Gantz was speaking at the Tel Aviv International Salon, attended by several hundred immigrants and visitors. He criticized Netanyahu's bilingual televised address about Israel's discovery of a hidden site in Abadeh, Iran, which he said was used for developing nuclear weapons, for having unnecessarily "exposed intelligence capabilities."
"If I was Netanyahu, I would do as much as possible and talk as little as possible. He is doing the opposite and it is a big mistake,” the former Israeli army chief of staff said, repeating again for emphasis that it was “a BIG mistake." Revealing the nuclear site's location served no operational purpose, Gantz noted, adding that it only served the prime minister.
While Gantz said that all Israeli parties should be “totally united” when it comes to the security threat posed by Iran, “I don’t think we should instrumentalize this into our politicize agenda. That is exactly what Netanyahu did today."
Gantz said the Iran announcement was designed to distract the public from Netanyahu's “failure” earlier on Monday — his inability to pass legislation that would allow parties to film inside polling stations on Election Day.
While decrying the cultural, religious and political divides that were widened by this election, Gantz — Netanyahu's chief election rival — hammered home the theme that is featured on billboards across the country this week: His pledge to form a “secular united government."
The Kahol Lavan leader said he had no interest in separating religion and state in Israel, as “we can’t separate Judaism from the Jewish state” — but he would like to “settle” it. In a nod to his audience, he said it was important to “reach out” to Diaspora Jewry, saying that “we cannot lose the American Jewish community, or the Mexican community, or the community in France. We need to listen to them as they need to listen to us."
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Praising pluralistic Judaism in the United States, he fondly recalled his stint as a military attaché in Washington, when his son attended the pluralistic Charles Smith School in Rockville, Maryland, and said there was room for all Jewish denominations at the Western Wall.
Gantz brushed off reports of tensions within Kahol Lavan and reiterated his commitment to honoring the rotation agreement for prime minister with the party's number two, Yair Lapid.
It was natural to have disagreements within such a large party, he said, adding that Kahol Lavan is in a better place than Likud, in which “Netanyahu has a totalitarian regime in his own party."
His goal, he said, was to “form a government of the majority that serves everybody, instead of a government of minorities that take care of one man."
He said an ideal coalition would include his party, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and “maybe Labor.” Once a majority coalition is in place, he said, he would be open to any parties joining the government, with the exception of "extremist" parties — mentioning the Arab Balad party and the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit.
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