The words spoken by Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz last Monday, hours before his mandate for forming a government was to expire, were no less than revolutionary in their directness, sincerity and simplicity. Without a whiff of manipulative argument, Gantz explained the motive behind his U-turn: “The emergency forced all of us to recalculate our path,” he said. He wasn’t saying anything we didn’t already know. Neither he nor Netanyahu could form a government without the other. “The emergency forced me to compromise on my intention not to serve in a government with him,” he explained.
It is so starkly true that it sounds like a lie. That’s how things are in Netanyahu’s Israel: Sincerity and simplicity are synonymous with being a loser.
Channel 12 reporter Amit Segal’s response to Gantz’s speech tells the whole story. It was the first time I saw surprise on the face of Israel’s quickest political commentator. “Look, this was supposed to be an offensive speech, but it was a defensive one,” he said. “This speech revealed someone who is totally in Netanyahu’s hands, and the decision, at this point, will fall somewhere between the two ears of the prime minister,” he said.
However, Segal may have been correct in his description, but not in his interpretation. Perhaps what he described as a defense was actually a form of attack? I couldn’t help remembering the parable about the wise old Chinese man who was the target of a youth trying to trick him. The young man placed a butterfly between his palms and asked the old man to guess if it was dead or alive. If the old man said it was alive, the youth would squash it. If he guessed it was dead, the youth would open his hands and prove the old man wrong. The youth asked the old man what he was holding and the man said: a butterfly. “Is it dead or alive?” the young man asked, to which the old man replied: “It’s in your hands.”
Gantz did not get trapped in Netanyahu’s hands, he placed himself there in full view of the entire country, stating honestly what he believed: “Netanyahu, this is the moment of truth.” Now, the ball is in Netanyahu’s hands. He must decide if he’s going to be loyal to the country and its citizens and establish a national emergency cabinet to deal with the coronavirus, leaving his legal fate solely in the hands of the courts, or whether he’s going to crush Gantz and prove that Netanyahu is above all else.
A random search on Twitter provides a few samples of the butterfly effect evoked by Gantz. Journalist and commentator Avishai Ben-Haim tweeted that if Netanyahu was pulling a fast one on Gantz, he [Ben-Haim] would have to do some serious stock-taking as a mystic fool. Yossi Elituv, the editor of the ultra-Orthodox Mishpacha Magazine, wrote: “If it turns out that Netanyahu deceived Gantz, we have to stand up and tell Bibi: Stop, you’ve gone far enough. There are red lines one doesn’t cross.” Right-wing journalist Shimon Riklin wrote that “if an ideological rival makes a gesture, you make one in return, like a man.”
In the world of sociobiology there are known strategies in which weakness has an evolutionary advantage. Sincerity could be interpreted this way. Perhaps these people feel that what really motivates Gantz is “Israel above all else.” Gantz’s sincerity only highlights Netanyahu’s lies, and his positive character emphasizes Netanyahu’s bad qualities, even in the eyes of his supporters who are – like everyone else on the left and right – captives of the concept of politics as a playing field of suave thuggishness.
- Gantz delays approving lawmakers' bills, including one to bar Netanyahu from acting as PM
- 'Netanyahu is morally rotten, Gantz is weak,' coronavirus committee head says
- Gantz refuses to see the writing on the wall
This is reminiscent what Tolstoy wrote in “A Letter to a Hindu”: “The punishment of evil doers consists in making them feel ashamed of themselves by doing them a great kindness.” Who knows, perhaps we’ll discover that the former chief of staff believes in a non-violent struggle in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, and that he preferred beating “Bibism” to fighting Bibi.