Former head of the IDF, Benny Gantz, officially launched his campaign to replace Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. Gantz, 59, finally broke his silence and laid out his long-awaited platform in an American style launch.
EDITORS NOTE: The following translation of Hosen L'Yisrael party leader Benny Gantz's speech in Tel Aviv kicking off his political campaign on January 29, 2019 was provided by the party itself and has been edited only slightly for clarity.
Fellow citizens of Israel:
Dear Founders of Hosen L'Yisrael, and volunteers, good evening. I am here tonight because, apart from my family, there is nothing more precious to me in the world than the State of Israel. I love Israel, am proud and committed to it. For me, Israel really is before all.
Fellow citizens of Israel, I come from you, to you I return and it is to you only that I am committed to. The Jewish people and the Zionist State are a great story. A story like no other. Larger than any individual. Bigger than any leader. We are one nation. We share one flag, one anthem and one army. However, I have come here tonight because I'm also worried about Israel.
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The people are strong. The country is wonderful. But in the land a bad wind blows. The struggle between left and right rips us apart. Quarrels between religious and secular split us. The tension between Jews and non-Jews threatens us. The mutual guarantee of a shared society is crumbling. Politics is ugly, and the public arena has become poisoned.
I have looked in-depth at today's self-absorbed leadership. It is not interested in you, and not in us. Believe me, I am very proud of our country and will never be ashamed of it. But lately more and more people, both right and left, myself included, are deeply embarrassed by the way our leadership conducts itself. A strong government governs to unite and doesn’t govern in order to separate, to rule.
Just like you, I feel that the time has come for new leadership, which will create a united, unified, cohesive society. Leadership that behaves differently and leads differently. Leadership that will not place itself before the good of the State and which will not weaken us from within.
The current regime encourages incitement, subversion and hatred. The basic values of Israeli statehood have been converted into the mannerisms of a French royal house. Instead of serving the people, the government looms over the people and finds the people to be a bore. It does not see the working man and the working woman. It does not see families moaning under the cost of living and the young people who cannot buy an apartment.
There was already a king who said: "The state, it is I." But no. Not here. No Israeli leader is a king. The state is not me. The state is you. The state is actually us. The state is all of us.
I am here before you, four years after I finished my job as IDF Chief of Staff, and ask for your confidence in leading the State of Israel. On April 9th I will establish a national [statesmanlike government]. A powerful government. A government that will act responsibly, firmly and decisively. A strong government creates security to calm anxieties and does not feed anxieties to insure its own survival.
For 38 years I was a soldier, a fighter and a commander. I made tough and courageous decisions. And I led fighters across enemy lines and answered the phone in the middle of the night. As someone who advanced all the way from a small moshav near Kiryat Malakhi to the “Holy of Holies” of Israel's security, on the 14th floor in the Ministry of Defense offices, I can tell you that security is created by deeds and not by words. In the harsh and violent Middle East surrounding us, there is no mercy for the weak. Only the strong survive!
[Iranian] President Rouhani - I know very well that you are plotting to harm Israel. I will thwart your plots in the north, south, and anywhere else in the Middle East. I will work against you in the international arena, in the economic arena and in the military arena. And if you do not understand the message in words, you will understand it with painful and precise blows.
To [Iranian Gen.] Qassem Suleimani and [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah - I have a clear message: The regional rampage has ended. The Jewish people are entitled to live in peace and security, and not under constant threat. We do not threaten the sovereignty of Tehran or any other country, and we will not tolerate a threat to Israeli sovereignty. [Hamas leader] Ahmed Sinwar - I suggest you not test me again.
I will allow any humanitarian assistance to the residents of Gaza. I will assist in the economic development of the Gaza Strip. But I will not allow the payment of protection cash payments in suitcases to murderous gangs under the disgraceful protection of screaming cabinet members.
The heads of the terrorist organizations need to know that Ahmad Jabari was not the first, nor may he be the last. Since the establishment of the State, our enemies have known the Israeli code of secrecy. They brag. And we act. They promise. And we deliver.
In recent years, things have turned around. I will immediately stop the shameful practice in which our secret security policies turn into ratings, and sensitive operations - into reality shows.
The days of press conferences on the subject of the sanctity of security are over. Popularity does not accumulate based on boasting, but rather on deeds. The government we will form will be a national government and not a monarchy. This will be a government without masters and servants, no obscene gifts and no court clowns. It will show strength against enemies and connect Israelis.
It will place Israel and Israelis first. Our government will not see ferocious attacks against the chief of staff, the commissioner and the attorney general. There will be no incitement against the judicial, cultural and media institutions. We will not instill hatred against half a people on the right or half on the left. Gone are the day when bereaved families were used for political ends. We have built a wonderful country here. I see all the good there is and bless it. I reject outright bitterness, apathy and despair. I believe with all my heart that with joint effort we can lead Israel to a major course of restoration. Because things must be change, it can be different here and it will be different.
Under my leadership, the government will strive for peace and will not miss an opportunity to bring about regional change. This is what the Israeli patriot Menachem Begin did, who signed a peace agreement with Egypt. This is what the Israeli patriot Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, did in the peace agreement with Jordan. This is what Benjamin Netanyahu did - yes, he is also an Israeli patriot - who delivered the "Bar-Ilan speech" and signed the Hebron evacuation agreement and the Wye agreement with the murderer Yasser Arafat.
However, if it turns out that there is no way to reach peace at this time, we will shape a new reality. Israel will be not be deprived of its status as a strong, Jewish and democratic state.
We will strengthen the settlement blocs and the Golan Heights, from which we will never retreat. The Jordan Valley will remain our eastern security border. We will maintain security in the entire Land of Israel, but we will not allow the millions of Palestinians living beyond the separation fence to endanger our security and our identity as a Jewish state.
United Jerusalem will be built, will grow - and will remain forever the capital of the Jewish people and the capital of the State of Israel. The national government we will establish will show zero tolerance for corruption of any kind. The State's money belongs to all its citizens and not to a small and privileged minority. This is not the personal example that we should provide to the young generation that is watching us.
A moral government is an example to us - and to our children. All my life, I have spoken the truth. I have always kept my hands clean. I owe nothing to anyone but my people. I will neither support not will I close my eyes in the face of any violation of moral standards. The very thought that a prime minister can serve in Israel with an indictment is ridiculous to me. This cannot happen. The personal example and mutual responsibility are those that will ensure the Zionist enterprise. In this spirit, I will regulate the relations that have been undermined between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
I will deepen my partnerships with the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs and the Druze. In addition to serving in the army, I will establish a framework of civil [civilian] service for all. All my partners - even if we cannot make peace with our neighbors, we will work hard and reach peace within ourselves. From the same unity and mutual responsibility, I wish to mention here our prisoners and missing persons who have not yet returned. I am committed to continuing to work to bring home Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, of blessed memory, Abera Mengistu and the rest of Israel’s fallen and missing persons.
Fellow Israeli citizens, the constant preoccupation with accusations and denials, in hearings and by state officials, has pushed aside life itself. We have become used too quickly to new editions that open with corrupt transcripts and suspicious tapes, and not with the suffocating mortgages, the endless traffic jams and the desperation of congested emergency rooms.
I am not prepared for an entire generation to live here without hope! We all deserve a leadership that gets up in the morning and thinks about us. We all need a government that solves our real problems and is not preoccupied with itself. Therefore, I thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his service for ten years. We will continue from here.
I look you straight in the eye and I say: I will never ignore the pain of children who have not been given the opportunity to dream just because they were born into a reality of gaps in salary and status between their parents and parents living in affluent areas. I will lead a revolution of equality and excellence in the educational system. I will bring a sharp turn in the cultivation of early childhood education and a dramatic change in the status of teachers and teachers.
We will return to being a learning society that provides a proper education for all its children. To the families I see in line at the supermarket every week - I promise that I will not accept the shamefully exorbitant prices that have made us one of the most expensive countries in the Western world. Henceforth, the leaders of competition-driven monopolies - your time has passed. The cost-of-living celebration is over. The same is true of the deep housing crisis. Before our eyes we see millions of Israelis, young couples and housing reformers, who groan about exorbitant rent or suffocating mortgages. I will not wait for the contractors and I will take care of the construction of hundreds of thousands of apartments through incentives for entrepreneurs - and will impose harsh sanctions on those who speculatively raise land and housing prices.
Indifference will not turn into policy. This is also the case in the health system, which collapsed due to incorrect policies. I see you. The mother who is waiting with her son for the emergency room doctor for 7 or 8 hours. I see the grandfather or grandmother being thrown to the hallways of the Internal Medicine ward and I am ashamed. Not everyone has money for a private doctor or luxury insurance. In Israel there is a dramatic and deep shortage of doctors and beds. Therefore I will declare a state of emergency in the health system and provide an immediate incentive for medical studies. We will establish another hospital in the north, another hospital in the south, and expand existing hospitals to ease the burden. The failure of the government in all areas of life can be seen from every blocked road and from every crowded railway station.
We have become a leading high-tech country with a low-tech government that is self-employed. Our government will bring us decades forward and draw the map of Israel for 2048.
I will establish a "Century Authority" - an authority that will change priorities for the benefit of the Negev, Galilee and the periphery, create new jobs and bring new impetus to the leading Israeli agriculture in the world.
It's not just a question of deeds - it's a question of identity. Israel is the State of the Jewish people, all of whose citizens are equal. The government under whose leadership I stand will respect and the tradition of Israel and allow each person to live according to their beliefs and values. We will promote the covenant of couplehood and the agreement regarding prayers at the Western Wall. We will allow public transportation on Shabbat in those communities that will choose this - but with meticulous observance of the holy character of this holy day. We will fight against the exclusion of women and violence against women, and we will smash all glass ceilings that prevent women from equality. We will grant the gay community full rights as granted to all citizens of the state. We will ensure the rights of people with disabilities and redefine Israeli society as a fair, just and cohesive society.
And one sentence on public ethics: In this spirit, I will personally take part in the election campaign. I will not personally harm anyone, and I will refrain from any action that could harm or break up Israeli society, which is so dear to you and to me. I remember very well where I came from, and I understand where I'm going.
I was born in an immigrant moshav called Kfar Achim. My mother Malka Gantz, and my father Nahum Gantz, of blessed memory, were Holocaust survivors who swore “Never again”. In Kfar Achim I grew up and was educated. There I plowed the fields - first with a horse, then a tractor. There I prayed in the synagogue and from there I went to the induction center on the day I was drafted into the IDF. In Kfar Achim, we lived side by side, observant, traditional and secular people in modesty and with love of the land and the country. These values have created whom I am. They are the ones which shaped me.
So, along with my wife Revital and our four children, I have chosen a life of devotion and purpose. I believe in the eternity of Israel, the people of Israel and the State of Israel. I believe in people and in the human spirit.
I believe in the unique Israeli combination of tradition and modernity, Judaism and democracy. But most of all, I believe - like you - in hope. Together, I will make Israel a strong and united country of hope.
[In the words of the national anthem]: Because our hope has not yet been lost. The 2,000-year dream is to be a free people in our country, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.