The National Conciliator

Benny Gantz receives the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin, October 23, 2019.
Emil Salman

In receiving on Wednesday the mandate to form the government, Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz is faced with a near-impossible political mission. The “liberal unity government” slogan he adopted after the election was meant to win him some freedom of action in building a coalition. However, the election results left Gantz very little room to maneuver among Avigdor Lieberman, who at any moment could jump back on the right-wing bandwagon; the religious-right bloc, that for now remains united behind Benjamin Netanyahu; and the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties, which is deliberating over whether and to what extent to seek entry to a club that isn’t eager to admit it.

But while Gantz’s political plans remains vague, in his speech alongside the president he did offer a clear moral stance: The time has come to bring to an end the era of Netanyahu and all the divisiveness he sowed, and to lead a process of national reconciliation among all parts of Israeli society. Gantz spoke about all Israelis being equal citizens, an idea that stands in profound contrast to what Netanyahu and “the right-wing bloc” represent: Jewish and right-wing supremacy.

The challenge Gantz faces is enormous. The military imagery associated with the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces is jarring for the minority communities, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, who respond to him with suspicion. It is clear from his statements that he relates to his “friends” from religious Zionism and his Druze “brothers” who serve in the military, differently than he does to the Arabs, to whom he promised law, order and education. And of course it’s easy to give speeches and much harder to translate them into political action that requires compromise and delayed gratification on issues at the heart of the public debate, such as the nation-state law and the conscription of young Haredi men.

Nonetheless, Gantz’s remarks about equal citizenship and his duties toward the entire country, not only his “base” – things that should be self-evident in any democracy – are a refreshing change, and remind us of how corrupted and fractured Israel became under Netanyahu. “The election outcome and the legal situation demand a change,” Gantz said rightly. So do Netanyahu’s failed foreign policy and security policy, as has been made plain by the abrupt American withdrawal from the region, Iran’s increasing strength and the latest reminders of the extent to which the occupation poisons Israel.

Israel desperately needs political change and national reconciliation, and Gantz will be judged by how well he is able to advance both.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.