Benny Gantz, leader of the Hosen L’Yisrael party, gave an interview to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth in which he said some of the right things. “We need to find a way not to continue ruling over other people,” he said. And when asked about the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, he replied, “This was a legal policy that was approved by the Israeli government and carried out by the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers in a painful but positive way. We need to learn the lessons and implement them in other places.”
Both of these are important statements for someone who is supposed to head the center-left bloc in the upcoming election. After having integrated the word “peace” into his speech last week, Gantz has now gone a step further and espoused relatively courageous positions that would extricate Israel from the diplomatic and moral dead-end in which it is stuck.
But just a few hours later, he panicked. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his usual contemptible, inflammatory style, wrote the following on his Facebook page: “We told you so. Gantz will set up a left-wing government with help from a blocking majority that relies on [Ahmad] Tibi and the Joint List” – i.e., the Arab parties. And the Hayamin Hehadash party thanked Gantz for “removing the mask. Benny Gantz is bypassing [Labor Party Chairman Avi] Gabbay on the left and wants to expel more Jews from their homes as part of a unilateral disengagement from Judea and Samaria.”
These reactions from Netanyahu and Hayamin Hehadash sufficed to send Gantz into a whirlwind of explanations and clarifications. “In a Gantz government, there will be no unilateral moves related to evacuating settlements, and the issue of the ‘lessons’ in this interview referred to the importance of preventing a rift in the nation and making sure that any future policy includes strict security provisions,” his campaign said.
But Gantz should be wary of imitating the Gabbay precedent. The Labor chairman also benefited from a tailwind immediately after his victory in his party’s leadership primary and reaped flattering results in the polls. But immediately afterward, he embarked on a series of statements and clarifications that ate into his initial popularity and left him lying wounded by the roadside.
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If Gantz is indeed made of the stuff of leadership, he shouldn’t be frightened by the gallons of venom that will be poured on him in the coming weeks in an attempt to tar him as a “leftist,” an “Arab lover” or someone who wants to “expel Jews from their homes.” These are cheap provocations that have become routine during the years of Netanyahu’s rule.
For Gantz to pose an alternative to Netanyahu, he must demonstrate a moral spine. Ruling over other people is indeed illegitimate, and learning lessons from the disengagement as part of a plan to evacuate settlements in the West Bank is necessary. He also shouldn’t fear to speak out against the nation-state law, which strips Israel’s non-Jewish citizens of equality. And above all, he must instill hope in the peace camp, which wants to elect him in order to put an end to the most nationalist government in the country’s history and the inciter-in-chief who heads it.