A Good Leader Betrays His Voters

Orian Morris
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Benny Gantz waves to supporters at an election night rally in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020.
Orian Morris

Yes, it was a very painful night, perhaps one of the ugliest in the history of Israeli politics. But it was evidently necessary.

Did Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz “betray” his voters? I think not. From the outset, Gantz spoke about unity and partnership, not only about destroying Bibi-ism. The latter wasn’t his main promise to his voters.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

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He incontrovertibly said he would not serve in a government led by a criminal defendant, and he kept that promise through two elections and two postelection efforts to form an alternative ruling coalition. But once he discovered that no such alternative was possible, what should he have done? Should he have joined the protesters waving black flags outside the Knesset? Maybe, but Gantz is a political player, not an observer or a critic.

He seems to have done the most responsible realpolitik thing he could have – becoming part of the government during the waning days of Bibi-ism and then inheriting the leadership from within. He wasn’t extorted, nor was he lured in by a hunger for power. He simply had no decent alternative, and a fourth election clearly couldn’t have taken place in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.

Moreover, his insistence on his party getting the positions of justice minister, defense minister and vice prime minister should show his voters he has not entirely renounced his second promise – to shore up the rule of law and replace the leader who is his up to his neck in criminal cases.

Unfortunately, this cannot be accomplished in a single strike, but only gradually, from within the unreasonable situation of sharing power with the corrupting influence whose culture of governance he battled.

We would have liked to see him form Israel’s first civil democratic bloc that included the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties, with some of its lawmakers named to the cabinet. But the time is not yet ripe. Certainly not when half of all Israelis, and a majority of Jewish Israelis, are still slaves to inflammatory rhetoric and to conspiracy theories (“the prosecutor’s office within the State Prosecutor’s Office) about the persecution of Benjamin Netanyahu. It would have created governmental, constitutional and civic chaos.

For this reason, Gantz’s joining the governing coalition is actually the lesser evil. A situation of governmental and economic instability while fighting a pandemic would have ended in rioting and violence in the streets. That won’t happen now, even if social media trolls denounce Gantz as a “false messiah” and a “traitor” to his bloc. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a bearable price.

True, justice apparently won’t be done with Bibi, and the principle of equality before the law will continue to be eroded during the coming months. This is the bitter anomaly that Bibi has brought into our lives, and Gantz is not the primary culprit.

There are simply more rightists than leftists in Israel. And even if you look solely at the leftist bloc led by Kahol Lavan, it includes about 10 soft rightists. From a purely mathematical standpoint, a unity government is indeed the only option; the only remaining questions are when and how.

And yes, it’s a tragedy that the new, hopeful alliance between the center and the Arab Knesset members has been broken. They’re not likely to risk their political capital again for the cheap concoction the Israeli generals cooked up for them. They dared to draw closer, and we served them a cup of poison, even as the Arab community is sacrificing itself on the medical front lines, where they are vulnerable to the coronavirus.

They won’t quickly extend a trusting hand to us again, nor will anyone soon emerge who can once again urge them to join forces. This was a rare achievement on Gantz’s part, and it was wasted.

But politics doesn’t exist to provide inspiring pictures. It’s a dirty game of winning and losing, in which the coin is the public’s trust, and sometimes even human life.

A good leader betrays his electorate, breaks his campaign promises and violates his written platform because in general, the crucial issues of the moment don’t exist on the same plane. We want to see Netanyahu go because he’s a walking constitutional crisis. But even the High Court of Justice wouldn’t be able to send a paddy wagon to the prime minister’s home when his justice minister has shut down the courts like a thief in the night.

What comes next will also be painful. Netanyahu will seek to stand trial while still serving as prime minister, and he won’t give up on a victory picture as the general running the war against the coronavirus (if he doesn’t turn out to be the captain on the Titanic). Gantz will be cast in this picture in the minor role of a weak cheerleader, but that’s a small price to pay.

The important thing is for this aging man to finally exit our lives. We can exempt him from the law books; in any case, he’s already done far worse things than the ones for which he’s standing trial.

In my assessment, in less than 10 months Bibi will lose his governmental assets (whether due to health problems, developments in his trial or something else).

Effectively, he’s just seeking a suitable retirement arrangement, in which he would rest on his laurels at his Caesarea home and write his nightmarish memoirs – including his infamous speech from the balcony of Jerusalem’s Zion Square in 1995 and the way he inflamed tempers over the graves of three teens who were kidnapped and murdered in 2014.

This is what he really wants – to avoid trial and to barricade himself into his paranoid tower. We can give him that.

Bibi is no longer a very interesting story, and that’s a sign that his time in power is ending (the only one still interested in the Bibi story is Bibi himself). That’s the heart of the matter, and based on it, Gantz did the right thing.

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