Opinion

Benny Gantz, Mediocrity Personified

Benny Gantz waits to speak at the ADL conference, Lod, Israel, November 11, 2019
Moti Milrod

Today this is already forgotten, but Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz began his campaign for the premiership with silence. Back then, people thought it was because he had something special to say, perhaps some interesting news. But the truth is that Gantz has nothing important to say to Israel’s citizens. In effect, he is the epitome of mediocrity and is totally uninteresting: not especially hated and not especially loved.

He is surrounded by people and staffers who will tailor every word and every appearance to him. Now they are tailoring a position for him regarding “the deal of the century.” Its crux: We can’t have people getting angry at Benny. After all, he is dreaming of replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz was a mediocre Israel Defense Forces officer, a mediocre chief of staff, and if he becomes prime minister – he will be a mediocre prime minister. But for a country like Israel, mediocre is not sufficient. Evidence of his mediocrity is the fact that he doesn’t arouse any extreme feelings. In order to understand how “parve” he is, it’s enough to look at his associates, whose declarations generate more interest and stir up more emotions than his do.

For example, Yael German, with her concoction of comments about separation versus disengagement, has created more noise than Gantz. Yair Lapid, with his video about the ultra-Orthodox, succeeded in arousing a public uproar for half a day. Ofer Shelah, with his assertion that there is no problem with supporting the Joint List, sparked a discussion in the media and among the public.

The Kahol Lavan leadership: from left, Bogie Yaalon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gaby Ashkenazi, Jerusalem, November 29, 2019
Olivier Fitoussi

Gantz’s tweets are banal and boring. The only thing he’s done that provoked a discussion around here was maintaining his silence way back when. But in spite of everything he has said since, in the most profound sense he has remained silent. That’s how it is when you don’t really have anything to say.

Which leads to a second point: Since deciding to embark on our longest ongoing election campaign ever, Gantz has not dared to do anything that’s not cooked up in the minds of his advisers. The latter are also insisting on padding him with cotton so he won’t say anything that will make leftists flee or deter a purist and hesitant right-winger. That’s why the issue of annexation is a trap for his advisers. But one thing is certain: There’s no real point in their consulting with him.

Kahol Lavan’s troops will claim that Gantz’s conduct is due to the fact that he’s statesmanlike. But even statesmanlike behavior is not an explanation for his inability to forge a clear position. President Reuven Rivlin, for example, also aspires to be “statesmanlike,” and still manages to infuriate thousands of right-wingers time after time because of his edifying and purist opinions. Gantz, on the other hand – nada.

In addition to that issue, another insistent argument used in his favor is the fact that he is a former chief of staff. Ostensibly, that’s enough to grant a seal of approval regarding his suitability to lead the country. But here of all places the problem of mediocrity is actually reinforced. It is self-evident that there are soldiers and officers who are creative, talented and courageous, but there are also those like Gantz who advanced just because they are mediocre – just because they obeyed orders without posing a threat to superior officers with serious military and political aspirations.

This argument is supported in an article by Yagil Levy (in the Haaretz Hebrew edition) last October, in which he explained that Gantz reached the position of deputy chief of staff and chief of staff more or less by chance. Regarding his performance in the army, Levy writes that “there was almost no evidence that he had left a mark,” and that “not only was he unable to improve the fitness of the ground forces, but he also failed to present a clear warning signal for the political leadership, which was dragged against its will into the superfluous ‘tunnels war’ in Gaza, for which it was not prepared.”

In any event, Levy points out what everyone notes about Gantz: He’s a gentleman and he’s a decent person. But if that wasn’t enough for running an army, why should it be enough for running a country?