According to the latest public opinion polls, Lt. Gen. (res. Benny Gantz) is the top challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gantz, who has founded the Hosen L’Yisrael, is hugely popular despite a lack of political experience, the absence of ideological partners and the vagueness surrounding his positions. But the halo of having been chief of staff isn’t sufficient to win the election; next week Gantz is expected to break his silence and present his platform to the public.
Over the next few days Gantz should view the press conference held by his former commanding officer, the late Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who retired from the military and challenged Netanyahu after his first term as prime minister. Lipkin-Shahak attacked Netanyahu fiercely but found it difficult to face the glare of the television cameras, and his candidacy evaporated.
Gantz had a longer cooling-off period between military and civilian life. We can hope he used it to prepare for public exposure, without the bulletproof vest of his uniform and decorations.
Throughout his military career, Gantz carefully avoided controversial remarks and actions, and stood out as a determined, bureaucratic warrior. As chief of staff he fought for raising the defense budget and improving the terms of service in the career army, and against bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. He ably forged a coalition with the heads of the intelligence, then-President Shimon Peres and the United States in order to thwart the attack plans of Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak. His low profile also spared him criticism over the intelligence and operative failures in preparing the army for the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip.
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But in his campaign to lead the country, Gantz will not be able to walk between the raindrops and act behind the scenes. He must give hope to the democratic part of the voting public and make it clear that under his leadership, Israel will abandon its policy of creeping annexation of the territories and end the rampant internal incitement led by Netanyahu.
Gantz must call for and end to the conflict with the Palestinians, for equality among Israel’s citizens, for the primacy of the rule of law and for solidarity with the liberal democracies of the West. Out of these principles he must derive his political goal: a union of all the forces, factions and fragments of the “bloc” into a single framework that will act to bring about an election upset and return Israel to the course of statesmanship and peace. It is the mission of his life.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.