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The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Why are secular Jews in Israel prepared to believe in Benny Gantz, but not in God, and why are religious Jews prepared to position him alongside the original God?

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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FILE Photo: Benny Gantz
FILE Photo: Benny GantzCredit: Motti Milrod
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

There’s no way to explain the longing of the public for the lofty and holy entity named Benny Gantz without understanding the concept of a pure belief that’s not based on anything. Gantz isn’t a first name or a last name, it’s a super-being. His spirit is everywhere, and faith in him has nothing to do with his height, good looks or words. He was not created in God’s image, he is God’s image. One needn’t ask him to reveal, interpret, imply or express an opinion, just to believe that he has all the answers. He was the past, he is the present, and he hopes to be the future.

Among the 14 to 15 MKs the polls are predicting for him and his party, there will undoubtedly be several secular Jews. The type that have despaired of God, have sought him in India, or are looking for some new deity after being disappointed by the golden calf who lives on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. These Jews are prepared to take up their walking sticks once again and set out on a journey in the wilderness – the way they wandered after Yair Lapid or Rafi Eitan’s Pensioners Party, or swore allegiance to Tzipi Livni and all the other false prophets that had become messiahs in their eyes. Now they’re already wiser and more experienced. No one’s going to put anything over on them again. Gantz is the real deal.

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Gantz has also learned something. He doesn’t plan to make the same mistake God did and perform some sleight of hand so that the people should believe in him. Turn a rod into a snake? Flood the land with frogs? Summon water from a rock? Split the Red Sea? Promise the whole Land of Israel? Not him. Any middling magician can do those tricks. He won’t promise to assassinate Ismail Haniyeh or to bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state – that’s for politicians with a political death wish. Lowering home prices? That’s for charlatans. What about a solution to hospital overcrowding or increasing disability allowances? Come on, maybe when you start asking your god for those things, then you can go to Gantz and make demands. Gantz is not a politician, a magician or a customer-service manager.

All this raises what is for now an unanswerable question. Why are secular Jews in Israel prepared to believe in Gantz, but not in God, and why are religious Jews prepared to position him alongside the original God, with whom you can’t take a selfie, as we know. True, in every society there’s that part of the population that will believe in anything – even in God. There are even those who believe that the earth is flat and that man was created from the dust and woman from his rib. But what about those fervently secular people who are willing to die to sanctify disbelief? Where did this devotion to and blind acceptance of something that might not even exist come from? What is that deus ex machina – “resilience for Israel” – being promised by his new party Hosen L’Yisrael?

According the description of the party’s goals, it will “continue strengthening the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country in light of the Zionist vision as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.” The key phrase here is not “Jewish and democratic,” which is liberally sprinkled in the campaign platforms of nearly all Zionist parties. In fact, the above sentence is an almost exact repeat of the relevant clause in the platform of the late Zionist Union.

Haaretz Weekly podcast, Episode 10Credit: Haaretz

No, the key word is “continue” – in other words, more of the same. A little from Habayit Hayehudi and maybe a pinch from Zionist Union, a “continuation” of Likud, and something small from Yesh Atid’s menu. There’s nothing new or innovative. And yet that is all the mortals here are getting for now from the Divine Presence.

This is the nature of despair. A public that sees its country at the brink of an abyss is apparently prepared to believe anything. Even a sphinx. Perhaps it would be better if he never opens his mouth? One can imagine the aggravation and frustration the masses of believers will suffer if it turns out that yet another Benjamin wants to play God.

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