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Gantz, Don’t Shy Away From a Debate, the Public Can Handle It

Carolina Landsmann
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People walk on a bridge under an election campaign billboard for the Blue and White party, the opposition party led by Benny Gantz, left, in Ramat Gan, Israel, February 18, 2020
People walk on a bridge under an election campaign billboard for the Blue and White party, the opposition party led by Benny Gantz, left, in Ramat Gan, Israel, February 18, 2020 Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Carolina Landsmann

“Bibi, you know that people, including some of your best friends, don’t believe you. What was it that Arik Sharon said about you? That you endanger Israel and that he doesn’t believe one word you say. What did Limor Livnat say? This leadership needs to be replaced … the problem is that no one believes you.”

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63

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This is what Center Party leader Itzik Mordechai said to Benjamin Netanyahu when debating him in 1999, and this is exactly what Benny Gantz should have said in a debate between them ahead of the upcoming election: Bibi, you know that your best friends don’t believe you. Nobody believes you.

If Gantz listened to himself rather than to his advisers, he would have accepted Netanyahu’s invitation to hold a televised debate. A confrontation with Netanyahu is a wonderful opportunity for Gantz to publicly admit that Netanyahu is indeed the glue holding Kahol Lavan together, and to state that what binds Yael German to Gabi Ashkenazi, Ofer Shelah to Moshe Ya’alon, Yair Lapid to Zvi Hauser, is the common acknowledgment – stronger than anything that divides them politically on the backdrop of tensions between left and right – that Netanyahu is bad for Israel.

This would have been an opportunity to say to him again, 20 years after Mordechai, what needs to be said: No one believes Netanyahu. The breathtaking confrontation between Mordechai and Netanyahu is exactly what’s missing in Israel’s political scene, where the public arena has become a virtual zone of combat between synthetic characters, engineered by public relations mavens, strategists and other advisers. The public needs a real joust, frontal and face-to-face, which in a profound, mythical sense is always a confrontation between the good and the bad.

Gantz replied to Netanyahu’s offer with a tweet: “What happened, Netanyahu? Did you take fright at the idea that soon you’ll have your confrontation with prosecution witnesses, making you come up with some spin?” Yes, it’s obviously spin, that’s all Netanyahu knows, but how is that relevant? It’s obvious what Gantz is worried about. He’s not made from the same stuff Netanyahu is made of. He’s not a man of words, he gets confused, he forgets names and stutters, his English is mediocre. But his weakness could turn out to be his advantage. Netanyahu is only a man of words. Gantz is a man of action. Netanyahu’s formulations are as slick as genetically engineered fruit. Gantz may be the taste of fruit as it used to be in our childhood.

Netanyahu is leaning precisely on the fear Gantz’s advisers harbor towards their “product.” “We’ll talk to the public. I don’t have teleprompters, we’ll call things as they are,” he told Gantz in his invitation to a debate, then shooting an arrow at Gantz’s adviser: “Ronen Tzur is working overtime now. … How can we get out of this one and not show up? Come to a debate, stop being afraid.”

It’s true that the biggest problem today is that everyone is masquerading. It’s unclear where Tzur ends and Gantz begins. Who does the public hear, the politicians or their image consultants? Who sets the agenda, the strategists or the candidates? Maybe it’s time to cast off the political-celebrity endorsements and choose between Netanyahu’s campaign manager Jonathan Orich and Tzur, for example?

A debate without headphones and prompters could shatter the engineered outer shell of the image, leading to an unmediated meeting of the true personalities of the candidates. If Gantz is at one with himself, he has nothing to worry about. The public can handle the different styles, the different pace, the slips and mistakes, if underneath it all there is a man of truth.