Opinion

Israel Needs an Old-fashioned Leader

Benny Gantz speaks at a convention in Jerusalem, September 2, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

There is nothing the left likes better than eliminating its leaders. The moment that Benny Gantz managed to win 35 Knesset seats and became the only person endangering the rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the left began to make him look ridiculous: He sleeps standing up, he’s boring, he has no knife between his teeth, he doesn’t know how to make a speech, he isn’t a copywriter like Ehud Barak, nor is he charismatic like Bibi Netanyahu. (For the latest election polls – click here)

At a recent meeting with him Gantz was asked about this insulting criticism. He replied that that’s his style, and that he doesn’t intend to change. He said that he isn’t the type to speak harshly and become more extreme in his opinions, and in fact he wants to change this aggressive style that prevails here in politics and in public life, and to bring about a reconciliation between parts of the nation. Just the opposite of Netanyahu.

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He said that before the 2015 election he asked his son whether he should enter politics. His son replied yes, of course, you can’t allow yourself to remain outside, there’s a lot to fix. But there was a condition: that Gantz would be goal-oriented and willing to go all the way, with all his strength, to replace the government. Gantz replied: In that case, I won’t enter politics. In those days he didn’t have a burning sense of mission.

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But since then four years have passed, during which he consulted with friends and acquaintances, including Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, and only when he felt a burning sense of mission, that he was willing to go all the way, did he jump into politics.

Regarding the security situation he said that we have tremendous military power, but it is not being used to promote a diplomatic process, which is a serious mistake. He said that our economic situation is also problematic, due to the large deficit vis-a-vis the need to implement social changes such as increasing old-age allowances and investing in education and health care. He sees himself as an attentive capitalist, who supports competition as well as social objectives.

One of those attending the meeting asked why he doesn’t call on the Arabs to be part of his coalition when the time comes. His clear reply: We will not form a coalition with the Arabs. And he added: Nor will we sit in a coalition in which Netanyahu is the prime minister, due to the criminal suspicions against him and his destruction of the judicial system and other democratic institutions.

In that case, who would he sit with? With Likud, with Netanyahu as one of the ministers (who would therefore be forced to resign the moment that indictments are filed against him), and with Lieberman, Labor and the ultra-Orthodox.

But the Haredim won’t agree to join a coalition with Yair Lapid, said someone. And Gantz replied that that’s not at all certain, and that it could possibly happen. And the truth is that such things have happened in the past. In 2003 the Haredim swore that they would never join a coalition with Netanyahu due to his severe cutbacks in subsidies for children and kollels (yeshivas for married men). Later they joined his coalition. In any case, Gantz warned that he intends to observe the prime ministerial rotation agreement with Lapid, because without the rotation there would have been no agreement between them to run on the same slate.

In the diplomatic arena, Gantz said that unlike Netanyahu, he is opposed to annexing the territories and he will attempt to enter a diplomatic process. (Netanyahu declared at the beginning of the week that he would impose “Jewish sovereignty” on all the settlements in the territories.) However, Gantz wants an agreement with the Palestinians to include the annexation of the settlement blocs, a security border on the Jordan River, and Jerusalem remaining in Israeli hands. He would also like the Palestinians to choose a new leader instead of Mahmoud Abbas, who is shackled to old ideas.

So it’s true that the meeting was relaxed, conducted in a statesmanlike atmosphere, without bells and whistles, with an atmosphere of conciliation rather than incitement. Nor were there any sensational headlines attacking the media, or political exploitation of the military activity in Syria and Lebanon, as is typical with Netanyahu.

So what’s better? A leader who is a talented speaker, a master of spin, an inciter of brother against brother, and who is willing to sacrifice all of us on the altar of saving him from prison – or someone who is not as good at speeches, and even lacks charisma, but he is an honest man with good intentions who only wants to repair what’s broken. An old-fashioned leader.