Former Israeli Army Chiefs Launch 'Apolitical' Movement to Heal Society's Rifts

Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi and former Education Minister Shai Prion say division, incitement and hatred are plaguing the country.

Former IDF Chiefs of Staff Benny Gantz, standing and Gabi Ashkenazi, seated in center.
Ilan Assayag

Two former heads of the Israel Defense Forces formally launched a new movement Monday designed to bring together a million Israelis against the forces of division they say are racking the country.

They insisted, however, that they had no intention to enter politics and that their movement, Pnima, was "apolitical." Benny Gantz, the IDF chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, said the divisions in Israeli society must be addressed and “the political leadership in Israel is not accepting the challenge.”

Gantz leads the new movement with his predecessor as chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and a former Education Minister, Shay Piron. Gantz was speaking at a news conference in Lod to introduce Pnima, which means “inward” in Hebrew.

He said he had joined the movement to address “our internal strength rather than our external challenge.”

“I have dealt with security challenges in every sphere, and from a security standpoint Israel is in a strong and resilient position," Gantz said. “In the future there will also be security challenges, and the country knows how to deal with them.”

He said the movement did not deal in politics “It’s bigger than that.”

Ashkenazi agreed that the main challenge was improving the strength of Israel’s social fabric. The values of solidarity, justice and equality are at risk, he said.

“I believe in action by people,” Ashkenazi said, before mistakenly referring to a once-strong centrist political party. “I have joined Kadima, excuse me, Pnima, because the time has come to say enough of the division, of the incitement, of the senseless hatred.”

Piron, who resigned from the Knesset and left politics in September 2015,   added: “The point of departure is that we have a wonderful people,” referring to Israelis in general. “We are the kind of people who come to gripe and explain what could be more.”
 
The main problem of Israeli society, Piron said, is hatred of those who are different  as a result of alienation, ignorance and a lack of familiarity.

“There are people, particularly politicians, who are profiting from the hate,” Piron said. “They are teaching us that the main way to get ahead in life is through hatred of the other. It can’t be that the only thing that unifies us is our enemies, war and fear of the other.”

Another Pnima member, businessman Shlomo Dovrat, said the group’s budget was based on contributions from Israeli philanthropists without a political affiliation. He declined to disclose the size of the budget.

Other members of Pnima include Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri; the head of the Bnei Shimon regional council, Sigal Moran; entrepreneur Adi Altschuler; and Sarah Rosenfeld, the mother of Malachi Rosenfeld, who was killed in a 2015 terrorist attack in the West Bank near Shvut Rachel.