Analysis |

Gantz's Message: Vote for Me – I'm Meaner Than Netanyahu, but Clean

Benny Gantz's delivery shows he is still less comfortable in a suit than in combat fatigues, but that's what his team wants him to convey

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Ex-Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz launching his campaign in Tel Aviv, January 29, 2019.
Ex-Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz launching his campaign in Tel Aviv, January 29, 2019.Credit: No credit
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

For the first 12 minutes ofhis campaign launch speech on Tuesday evening, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz didn't mention Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once.

He spoke of "a leadership that is focused on itself" and a "king" who says "the state, it is I." But even though there was no doubt as to the identity of his target, the old general held fire.

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His advisers were aware that in appealing to Netanyahu's voters, they needed to be careful about how they attack him: A surgical strike rather than carpet-bombing.

Instead, he set a whole firing range of enemies. Hassan Rohani, Qassem Soleimani, Hassan Nasrallah and Yahya Sinwar were all put on warning. "Your period of mayhem is over," he intoned.

Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas chief who was killed in a targeted airstrike by Gantz's air force in November 2012, "wasn't the first and won't be the last." And when Gantz had finished polishing off the rogues shooting gallery, he began listing former prime ministers – "Israeli patriots" who had made peace. Menachem Begin with Egypt; Yitzhak Rabin with Jordan (but not the Palestinians apparently).

And then he added to the list "Benjamin Netanyahu: He's also an Israeli patriot who signed the Hebron and Wye [River] accords with the greatest of murderers, Yasser Arafat." This was followed up with the promise that a Gantz government would have "zero tolerance for any form of corruption," and "the very idea that in Israel an indicted prime minister can serve is ridiculous in my eyes."

These were Gantz's main messages of the evening: I'm not corrupt Iike that Israeli patriot Netanyahu. My family doesn't have his family's sense of entitlement. And I can be a much meaner son of a bitch than him. Mean but clean. I've killed more Arabs and they won't fool me. I'd like to make peace but I'll probably have to make war, and the most important thing is that all the Jews remain united. So thank you Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for your service over the last 10 years. We'll carry on from here.

It was a nicely packaged pile of right-of-center clichés put together by a team of campaign professionals who know exactly which Israeli constituencies they are aiming for – the hawkish fringes of what was once Labor, the middle-class voters of Yesh Atid and the soft-right margin of wavering Likudniks.

Gantz's delivery was a bit wooden and he lapsed into a staccato speech pattern midway through. He's still less comfortable in a suit than in combat fatigues – but that's exactly what his team wants him to convey. He's not Bibi "the slick hasbarist" Netanyahu, or the chat show host Yair Lapid. He's the truth-talking, rough-around-the-edges general from central casting.

In the garbage-time section of the speech, Gantz droned on with empty campaign promises. But the important lines had already been delivered earlier on when he promised that "we won't allow the Palestinians to endanger our security and identity as a Jewish state," and spoke of the Jordan Valley being Israel's security borders, never leaving the Golan Heights and, of course, the indivisibility of "united Jerusalem, forever the capital of the Jewish people and of Israel." Sound familiar?

Gantz's slogan is "No more right and left, just Israel before everything," but his potential voters – the ones he needs to win over – are all on the right. The campaign event was opened by Hila Shay Vazan, a former local council member of Habayit Hayehudi. And at the end of Gantz's speech, he was joined on stage by his newest party member, Likud's former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who believes there's no chance of a deal with the Palestinians this century. These are the people Gantz needs front stage to shield him from accusations of leftism.

Gantz didn't present a vision for Israel's future. Most likely he doesn't have one. "The nation is strong. The state is wonderful," he said at the start. It just needs to get rid of that patriotic but corrupt and divisive Netanyahu and his ugly politics and it will be even stronger.

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