A moment before he sets the polls on fire, shakes up the system and captures the hearts of voters, it might be worth recalling just who Benny Gantz is. The center-left has already embraced him, just as it embraces any vacuum. Soon he’ll surround himself with a dream lineup, with urban social activists, an enlightened rabbi, a brave battalion commander, a few women and a token Ethiopian. A new Yair Lapid is born, taller and no less charming than he.
The pundits like to write about the “nothing” that the public knows about his positions. Middle-of-the-roaders generally have no positions except for “both this and that” and a few slogans. But there are a few things we actually do know about Gantz, that everyone is ignoring. Israelis won’t pardon a rape committed decades ago, but they pardon war crimes in advance.
Gantz was the chief of staff during some of the military’s most horrific operations, the worst of which was Operation Protective Edge. This sympathetic figure, the model of Israeli moderation and restraint, who stood with the good guys against bombing Iran, has a great deal of blood on his hands, much of it the blood of innocents. No one is holding him accountable for this; after all, he’s a nice guy, “one of ours.” He would never express himself in a sickening manner like Yoav Galant (“The best of serpents — crush its head”). He represents the ethical, humane and moral Israel Defense Forces, the pretty face from Kfar Ahim, the way we like it.
The 20th chief of staff could speak about morality and fought fiercely against religious coercion in the army. But in the guise of moderation, he led the military and Israel to the lowest moral nadir, particularly in his last year in the post, the black year 2014. Before we start delighting in him, we must not forget.
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It began with Operation Brother’s Keeper. Under Gantz’s command and with pressure from the settlers, the IDF launched one of the most disproportionate revenge operations ever, in response to the kidnapping and murder of the three yeshiva students in Gush Etzion. Over 400 Palestinians were arrested in that retaliatory wave, including 50 who’d been released in the deal for Gilad Shalit, the overwhelming majority of whom had nothing to do with the abduction and murder. The road to rockets being fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip was short, as short as the path to Operation Protective Edge, one of the IDF’s most brutal campaigns ever. Over 500 Palestinian children were killed, including 180 infants and toddler, as well as some 250 women and more than 100 old people: 2,202 fatalities, most of them noncombatants, and hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes.
Gantz didn’t think this was so terrible. About one of the vilest attacks, on Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood, on July 19-20, he said, “We used our power in the most controlled way possible.” These were the results: In the first blow, the IDF within hours killed 40 residents and wounded 400. As controlled as possible. On the 120 targets in the neighborhood, most of them slum apartments, the IDF dropped 1-ton bombs. This, too, was highly controlled.
And we haven’t yet mentioned “Black Friday,” August 1-2, the most serious war crime committed under the command of the warrior pure of arms. After the body of 1st Lt. Hadar Goldin was snatched, the Hannibal directive was issued. The battle in Rafah was fierce; 2,000 missiles, mortar shells and bombs were dropped on neighborhoods. Over 100 people were killed, most of them civilians. “You’re shooting like crazy people,” the Samson’s Foxes Brigade commander yelled into the radio. Amnesty International says it was a war crime.
From Gantz, silence. The army closed the “investigation” into Black Friday only this year and of course no one was prosecuted. Why, what happened? Who died?
Gaza still hasn’t recovered from its bereavement, its grief, its wounds or its ruins. Crimes have perpetrators and culprits. The chief of staff at the time, Benny Gantz, is now the great white moderate hope to replace the monster Netanyahu and the right. Once again, something to look forward to.