Benny Gantz took the stage at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds Tuesday night with a single goal in mind – stopping his Hosen L’Yisrael party from sliding in the polls. And he didn’t rely on the random collection of people sitting behind him, which looked more like a focus group testing a new kind of breakfast cereal.
His party has recently lost about four Knesset seats in the polls as voters returned to two more established parties in the center-left bloc, Labor and Yesh Atid. If those voters don’t make another U-turn and come back, Hosen L’Yisrael is finished.
Gantz knows the coming week is critical. The parties’ Knesset tickets must be submitted by Thursday night. Then, the campaigning will begin. He must regain the momentum he has lost over the past week, when his voice wasn’t heard and the Labor Party’s primary produced an attractive ticket and a consequent overnight recovery.
In campaign terminology, this is called cannibalization. Gantz understands that the chances of ousting Benjamin Netanyahu in this election are slim. He is currently fighting for leadership of his bloc – a chance to become either leader of the opposition or a significant force in the fifth Netanyahu government while awaiting Netanyahu’s downfall.
After his artillery – in the form of his number two, Moshe Ya’alon – had softened up the target, Gantz attacked Netanyahu singlehandedly Tuesday night with an aggressive speech full of pointed, insulting remarks – some of which were low blows – aimed at returning voters to him. His listeners gaped as he reminded Netanyahu of the days the latter had spent in New York making the rounds of television studios and cocktail parties while Gantz was laying ambushes on freezing winter nights, risking his life and teaching generations of soldiers and officers.
Netanyahu, he charged, is a dictator. He is pressured, sweating, afraid and inflammatory. He leads people astray, has an agenda consisting solely of hatred and is addicted to hedonism. He is someone who calls even rightists who dare to disagree with him traitors, including the attorney general and the former police commissioner.
Members of Netanyahu’s Likud party were shocked. After all, that’s their style, and Gantz was copying it. And his target’s initial response was uncharacteristically defensive. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” Netanyahu rebuked the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. When have we ever heard Netanyahu or one of his people say something like that?
Gantz needed that jolt of electricity Tuesday night to stop the bleeding and revive his weakened body’s vital signs. He has a day and a half left, until Thursday evening, to forge a joint ticket with either Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid or Orly Levi-Abekasis' Gesher party.
He explicitly contradicted what Lapid said the day before – that the issue of placement on the ticket hadn’t even arisen during their conversations, only issues of “content.” Stuff and nonsense, Gantz replied.
“You don’t weaken an opportunity for historic change over arguments about jobs,” Gantz said. “Let’s rise above it, unite and win.” Essentially, he called Lapid a liar. Every reader and listener will decide which of them to believe.
The chances of a major merger, Gantz and Lapid, are low, but not nonexistent. The chances of a minor merger, with Gesher, are higher. If that happens, Levi-Abekasis will be the second person, after Ya’alon, to find a refuge from certain electoral defeat in Hosen L’Yisrael. But even with Gesher, the dispute is primarily over placement on the ticket and issues of honor.
Meanwhile, things are happening among the neighbors. Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay’s search for someone with security credentials who would agree to accept the number-two spot on Labor’s ticket has finally succeeded. After a series of rejections that wouldn’t have shamed the elephant man on the eve of the high school prom, he found someone who meets all the requirements.
Tal Russo was a major general in the combat forces, an admired commander, a paratrooper. He also looks like a Likud member. It’s exactly what Gabbay wanted just when he was about to give up in despair.
The other candidates on Labor’s ticket, who had been sharpening their knives, will have trouble objecting to Russo getting this slot. He’s not a former chief of staff, but he’s also no chocolate soldier, as one candidate said. With Russo, Labor’s top 10 has nothing to be ashamed of when compared to Hosen L’Yisrael and Yesh Atid.
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