Opinion

Where Are You Going, Gantz?

Benny Gantz visits the site where an Israeli soldier was stabbed in the West Bank, August 8, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

They were racking their brains at Kahol Lavan headquarters, trying feverishly to find a big issue to infuse some life into their election campaign – something along the lines of Ehud Barak’s promise during the 1999 campaign to withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon within a year.

In the end, Benny Gantz decided to go with this: “In the next round we will defeat Hamas, we will eliminate Hamas’ leaders and pulverize [Gaza].” Such a promise should attract Israelis, coming from a former chief of IDF General Staff and hitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in one of his weak spots.

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Gantz has been making a great effort these past few weeks to sprout leadership wings, to rise above the neutering four-member “cockpit.” He publicly chastised Yair Lapid for his campaign video that offended the ultra-Orthodox, announced during a tour of the Jordan Valley that the area will remain under Israeli control forever, and declared to Ynet that if Netanyahu were ready to give him first turn as prime minister in a rotation agreement, there might be something to talk about. Even his move to seek out those leaking information within Kahol Lavan, without telling his co-leaders, was meant to demonstrate leadership.

>> Read more: They're promising to destroy Hamas | Opinion ■ Instead of tossing out fantasies, Kahol Lavan promises voters a war | Opinion

So far, however, Gantz’s efforts have not borne fruit. The problem, first and foremost, is him. It doesn’t matter how meaty the message he’s seeking to convey, when it’s delivered the way Gantz delivers it, it doesn’t come out that way.

His newest political position is the clearest example of this. He actually said something clever and logical: If he is first in the premiership rotation, then obviously Netanyahu will be a senior minister during the first half of the government’s term. And if Netanyahu is a senior minister, and is indicted on the charges he faces, he will have to resign. Thus, Gantz is not violating his promise to the voters not to sit in a Netanyahu government.

But a moment afterward, Moshe Ya’alon took the trouble to clarify that Gantz had been misunderstood, Gantz himself also mumbled some vague clarification, and all the political profit that could have been realized from the new message went down the drain. In the end, this “big campaign promise” caused more harm than good.

A smart campaign is one in which the candidate does everything possible to get votes, while making the minimum number of promises he can be held to during the term itself. Sometimes there’s no choice. Barak swore in 1999 that Jerusalem would remain united, even as he knew he’d have to break that promise once elected. And when the time came, he broke it.

Gantz wasn’t under any pressure to promise to retain control over the Jordan Valley. He knows very well that if he ever gets to conduct negotiations over Israel’s final borders, the first concession will be over the settlements there. During every diplomatic negotiation with the Palestinians to date, Israel yielded on the Jordan Valley settlements. Gantz reaped nothing with his pledge of allegiance to the Jordan Valley, but has now tied himself to a needless commitment.

Even more problematic was his other “big campaign promise.” Gantz hasn’t yet succeeded in attracting any public attention or confidence in his commitment to essentially end Hamas’ rule in Gaza. If he ever gets a chance to sit at the helm of government, however, he will be given continual reminders of this promise.

But for all of Gantz’s failures, his leadership partners are also to blame. Yair Lapid, Gabi Ashkenazi and Ya’alon know that victory depends on highlighting Gantz’s leadership ability, which was the weak point in the previous campaign. Even though Netanyahu has been responsible for some staggering leadership weaknesses in recent years, he still runs every campaign using different versions of “I’m the strongest.”

If Ya’alon, Lapid and Ashkenazi fail to rein in their egos for the next few weeks and show that they’ve submitted to the authority of Benny the Strong, they will fulfill everything their rivals are predicting for Kahol Lavan after the election.