Former army chief Benny Gantz said Monday he would "do anything in his power to correct" Israel's nation-state law, making his first public statement since he registered his party ahead of the April 9 election.
Gantz, seen as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main contender, spoke to dozens of Israeli Druze who protested outside his home in Rosh Ha'ayin against the controversial law.
Gantz said the legislation, approved in the Knesset by a narrow margin in July, should "express the deep, inseparable connection" between Israel's Jewish and Druze communities, "not only in combat, but in life, too; not only in hardships, but in good times too. We'll do it together."
"You're fighting for your home, keep going," Gantz told the crowd. "I'm very happy you came to me this morning in this unpleasant weather. I thank you for coming, it's my honor you're here this morning." Referring to fallen Israeli Druze soldiers, Gantz said, "we must remember the loss of many friends."
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Gantz has refrained from making public statements after launching Hosen L'Yisrael in late December. Despite growing criticism over his silence, Gantz's aides believed this was the right strategy. The former general stated that his party's goals are "to continue strengthening the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country in light of the Zionist vision as it expressed in the Declaration of Independence."
In response, Hosen L’Yisrael dubbed Likud’s reaction "panicked" and said in a statement: "They shot our Druze brothers in the back, and we shall heal it."
Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Assad, who led the demonstration, said "we need" more people like Gantz. "I know his values, and I have no doubt he's right" for a political office, he added. Assad has met in previous months with Netanyahu and other leaders in a bid to alter the law, which critics say is racist and harms minorities.
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo joined the protesters and said: "I believe in Gantz as a leader, he can lead the necessary change." According to Pardo, "before he was a general and a commander, he was a people's person, and people like that are right for politics. I don't know what's right wing and what's left wing, but anyone who wants a Jewish, democratic state with equality for all its citizens isn't about right and left."
Hayamin Hehadash, the right-wing party recently launched by ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, said in a tweet that "Gantz's first political statement makes it clear – he has teamed up with the left." The party added: "The nation-state law is a historic achievement that brings back the state's national, Jewish and Zionist character… Gantz's plan to alter it clarifies where he stands."
Shaked added: "Gantz's intention to alter the nation-state law would hurt State of Israel's character as the nation state of the Jewish people. The Knesset determines the character of the State of Israel, not the High Court of Justice. Our Druze brothers and their hard feelings must be dealt with through dialogue, in unity and with separate legislation."