Israel's Future Still Depends on Benny Gantz, a Political Spare Tire

Zvi Bar'el
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Benny Gantz issues a statement at the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, July 27, 2020.Credit: Tal Shahar,AP
Zvi Bar'el

Israel is the only country in the world that has a spare prime minister in storage. It’s logical. When the authority of the prime minister expires, particularly when he is showing signs of losing his senses and his behavior is endangering public health, the economy and state security, one must be able to go to the storeroom and pull out a prime minister to replace the defective one. It’s not the most attractive option but it can’t be otherwise.

The barrels of effluent that have been poured on Benny Gantz continue to emit a bad odor – vote-stealer, fraudster, spineless, betrayed his voters, hesitant, a fig leaf, lacking charisma and an ideology are just some of the ways the former chief of staff has been described.

The rhetorical coating he wore like a face mask, the aggressive and determined rhetoric he adopted, the smooth, stutter-free speeches and the flickers of a strong stand that he showed against attempts to undermine the justice system, demonstrators or the vote on the bill banning conversion therapy are signifiers more of rebellion or of settling political scores than of the sweeping performance of a leader. They came too late and they aren’t enough to convince the public, and especially his voters, that the replacement part will be as good or better than the original. For now he resembles those donut spare tires that can’t be driven for many miles before they have to be replaced by a new, safe tire.

But Gantz is meant to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (subject to the circus tricks Netanyahu can still be expected to pull). Here’s the inherent irony that accompanies the desire to get rid of Netanyahu. Anyone who doesn’t want Gantz as prime minister must stop giving him fitness tests: Will he take a firm stand and not accept a one-year budget? Will he oppose annexation? Will he continue to swallow insults? These questions are superfluous if in any case he isn’t seen as a worthy prime minister or even an alternative one. But the fact they are being asked shows that people are prepared to give Gantz a chance to build himself into a worthy leader, a leader who can fashion a different, sane, logical agenda that will restore people’s faith in political leadership.

Anyone who’s yearning to see Netanyahu leave his home on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street can’t in the same breath reject the only rational alternative that exists and look for some new magician. We’ve had more than enough clowns. The way to do this is to restore to Kahol Lavan the votes it lost and raise it from the electoral abyss to which it has descended.

Public opinion polls, which have become the oracles of the public’s desires, are reflecting frustration and despair, but they’re incapable of sketching out a map of hope. Their great importance lies in the fact that they are expected to decide whether we will go to a fourth election or make do with the existing “arrangement,” which is just waiting to collapse.

Here’s another paradox: The working assumption is that another election would be a disaster, causing incalculable economic damage and such complete chaos that the resultant situation would be even worse. But it’s clear there’s no avoiding an early election. That’s Netanyahu’s dream and he will do everything for it to take place at a date convenient for him. His mission is to buy enough time to massage public opinion, pull the wool over people’s eyes and eliminate any alternative.

But it’s precisely because Israel is in crisis, with its prime minister absorbing blows; when the country doesn’t know how it’s going to get through the summer and the coming winter, when more than 800,000 unemployed people are seeking a livelihood; it’s precisely now that an election could be an opportunity to eliminate the affliction and flatten the curve of corruption and the destruction of democracy that broke out uncontrolled from the prime minister’s residence.

Gantz needn’t be afraid of an election any more than he must be concerned about Netanyahu’s tricks. He must understand that despite the unfavorable polls, he is still the only brake on which Israel’s future can depend. That’s the advantage of a leader who has nothing to lose but his role as the spare tire.