Analysis

No, Netanyahu, Gantz Is Not Left-wing – He's the Old Right

What distinguishes his platform from today's right are a return to statesmanship, narrowing social rifts, fighting corruption and protecting state institutions

Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya'alon at the campaign election of Hosen L'Yisrael in Tel Aviv, January 29, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Usually, after too long a wait for someone or something – in political life or real life – it's hard to top the build-up and the expectations, and it's very easy to disappoint.

Yet in the case of the new Hosen L'Yisrael party's leader and candidate for prime minister, Benny Gantz, once the long silence was over, along with the sound bite clichés and the elevator music, there was a first, serious, detailed speech in which Gantz laid out a clear world view on most topics of importance.  

The parroted response to it by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party – that Gantz is left wing – appeared superficial and astoundingly childish on Tuesday evening, given what Gantz said. Moreover, the response was simply not correct (not that anyone cares these days), because those who delve seriously into Gantz's remarks – particularly the parts relating to diplomacy and security – will easily discover that Gantz is not at all left-wing. In fact, he's from the old right wing. 

Gantz described a worldview of a liberal Likudnik of days gone by, someone who puts defense in the forefront, but who is also extending his hand in peace, who is not afraid to speak about values like equality and separation of religion and state to the extent possible.

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He spoke as someone who believes in free markets as well as a social safety net, "making a secure peace," as a slogan from a past campaign put it, that of another kind of Netanyahu, a Netanyahu of the statesmanlike right-wing, fighting left-wing defense-first types and not the new right wing that is going after him.

So what is there in Gantz's diplomatic and security platform? First, there's a general declaration of militarist patriotism, which cannot be dispensed with today, at the beginning of any speech. It's an apologia of sorts designed to state clearly, "I am a Zionist. And after that, what comes next is threats to Iran (references such as "the strong one wins" and "painful and precise blows").

In the process, Gantz is adopting Netanyahu's basic narrative that this is the main subject on the security agenda. After that comes Gaza: An explicit threat on the lives of leaders of Hamas, in other words, a return to the policy of targeted killings. Apart from the dig at Netanyahu for allowing the transfer of Qatari funds into the Strip, a rather populist statement for someone who purportedly wants calm, there was no particularly left-wing revelation here.

It was only after a considerable verbiage that Gantz got to the Palestinian issue, in the middle of his speech. "The statesmanlike government that I will lead will strive for peace and will not miss an opportunity to bring about change in the region," he said.

And whom did he mention as personalities worthy of emulation? "That Israeli patriot Menachem Begin" and "that Israeli patriot Yitzhak Rabin" and yes – also the version of Netanyahu reflected in his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, a withdrawal in Hebron and the Wye River Memorandum of 1998.

And what about the details of Gantz's Hosen L'Yisrael party's platform? Separating from the Palestinians for the sake of a "Jewish and democratic" Israel; strengthening "settlement blocs; the Jordan Valley as Israel's eastern security border; the emphasis on security; the general statement about Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights; and of course: "United Jerusalem will forever remain the capital of the Jewish people."

That's not a "leftist" platform. It's a platform that many in the old Likud, including Netanyahu himself, would have supported and as a practical matter have already done so. So then what's the difference between Gantz and the leadership of the current "new" right wing? It's not the diplomatic and security platform that distinguishes Gantz's platform but a return to statesmanship, narrowing the division and the infighting between right and left and among segments of Israeli society. It's about the war on corruption, defending state institutions, particularly those dealing with rule of law, defending culture and the media; separation of church and state; and of major importance, modesty and a spirit of optimism instead of foulness and aggressiveness.

In his first public speech as party leader, Gantz wasn't breaking new ground. On the contrary, he was proposing a yearning for a nostalgic past. "I plowed the fields, first with a horse and then with a tractor," as he put it. Gantz would be the man to embark on peace negotiations for the sake of hope, but by the same token, would go to bloody war to show them what's what. After all, he's not left-wing.