Seeing the compelling case for Blue and White

I thought long and hard before I decided to run, yet again, on the 2021 Blue and White ticket for Knesset. I did it because I believe that Benny Gantz and his colleagues have done more for Israel than any political party in recent memory. As I see it, when you get past the cynicism that informs many voters’ preferences in the present election, Blue and White, is the only party that makes sense.

As a professor at left-leaning Tel Aviv University, I am well aware that many people see it differently. Some claim that Benny Gantz destroyed the Center-Left when he broke his election promise to 1.2 million voters by joining the Netanyahu government. Others say that he may be a decent man, but is an ineffective politician.  The most critical see him as an enabler in Bibi Netanyahu’s increasingly fascist regime.  But I see it very differently.

As I see it, all the public opinion surveys taken at the end of March, 2020 showed that after three divisive election campaigns, 66% of Blue and White voters supported Gantz’s decision to forge a national unity, coalition agreement.  Israelis have always preferred that their leaders be pragmatic and smart – and not ideologically rigid and foolish.  With a raging pandemic and the biggest economic disaster in recent memory, Benny’s decision to rethink election dynamics and embrace his campaign’s broader promise to “put Israel’s first” was not only legitimate — it was essential.  If anyone shattered center-left unity, it was Yair Lapid’s calculated decision to break up the Blue and White party.

The greatest myth to emerge from the past year is that Blue and White had an opportunity to form a narrow government with the support of Arab parties — but chose not to.  The truth is that once Orly Levy, Tzvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel switched sides, this was no longer an option.

All the polls confirmed that had we gone a fourth round in 2020 — completely fed-up with the stalemate, voters would have given Likud a far larger margin and easy road to a 61-seat government.  Recent events confirm that Ben Gvir’s and Smotrich’s combined racist ballots would have counted, issuing in the most fundamentalist, anti-democratic, anti-peace government in our history.

Blue and White faced two lousy options.  It took the harder road. But it was also the one where the party could actually do something to save the soul of our country.

As I see it – Gantz made the wrenching, but intrepid decision that I expect of leaders when they are tested.  Frequently, we hear the metaphor of Gantz “falling on a grenade” to spare Israeli society irreversible damage.  That is indeed half the story:

History already records that Gantz’s interventions single-handedly averted unilateral annexation of the West Bank. It was a time at a time when an insouciant President Trump and a desperate Prime Minister Netanyahu would have happily closed the door on reconciliation with 2.8 million Palestinians. One can only imagine where we would be today without Blue and White in terms of raging violence; vulnerability in the International Criminal Court; or our ability to promise our children a better way forward.

Can those who still cling to the hope of a two-state solution point to any politician since Rabin and Peres who has done more to keep this hope alive? After spending so many years heckling in the peanut gallery, no one in Meretz, Labor or Yesh Atid can claim to have contributed more to a peaceful future.

Israel is not the only country where government policies surrounding the Covid epidemic have been a mess. Yet, if you assess the local zigzagging, there are a few consistent voices that matter. When the Likud Finance Ministry was engineering the biggest national debt in Israeli history, and its top economists were resigning in protest, Gantz insisted that government handouts at least be directed to the poor populations that truly needed them. Blue and White cabinet members ensured that notwithstanding the epidemic, the right to political protest would not be compromised — even as they too endured the relentless frustration of demonstrators outside their homes.

Gantz forced the creation a Corona cabinet so that there would be thorough discussions about the painful public health dilemmas. He insisted that the military take charge of epidemiological monitoring, as it ultimate did, reducing infection rates through most of the year.  And although unfortunately, Blue and White does not oversee Israel’s police, it was their voices in the Cabinet that insisted (with inadequate success) for higher fines and a consistent enforcement response in all sectors against lockdown violators.

I see our vaunted Supreme Court today, battered perhaps, but still independent and a voice of sanity, decency and justice.  To me, that’s worth falling on a grenade for. And while I no longer see Likud legislation to exempt prime ministers from criminal trials on the table, I do see Netanyahu defending himself this week in Jerusalem’s District Court from three very disturbing indictments.

The other half of the 2020 Blue and White story is what the party actually got done.  I’m not just running with Blue and White because of its heroic “damage control.” Rather, I am impressed by its successes during a year when Likud did everything it could to truncate, obfuscate and sabotage.

After years of inexcusable delays, Pnina Tamano-Shata brought 2,000 languishing Ethiopian immigrants home to Israel.  Notwithstanding his soft-spoken humility, Chili Tropper managed to generate the funds to keep most of the country’s main cultural institutions afloat. And then Tropper – rather than the Likud Minister in charge – fought to find money to keep Israel’s youth movements running during these challenging times.\

Covid may have helped, but it is no coincidence that the time Gantz was defense minister was probably the best year for the security of citizens in Israeli history.

Environmentally, Miki Haimovich set a new standard in green leadership while chairing the Knesset Interior Committee. Rather than mope in disappointment after the Likud vetoed her appointment as environmental minister, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work as a parliamentarian: from reducing obstacles for solar power to expediting local by-laws to ban plastics on the beach. Due to her insistence, millions more shekels were found in the de facto budget running the government for saving trees in our cities and enforcing reasonable animal conditions.

For the first time in memory, Alon Shuster, the personable Blue and White Minister of Agriculture, used his ministry’s authorities to fight to protect forests and open spaces.  Indeed, as in the previous three elections, today Blue and White by far, still offers the most focused and authentic environmental campaign and platform.

Finally, as I look across Israel’s political landscape, I mostly see politicians who prefer to exploit Israel’s societal divisions to build their own power bases.  Their strategies rely on vilifying Haredim or settlers or Arabs or leftists. Gantz remains the only leader with the fundamental decency and respect for cultural differences to engage the full range of modern Israeli tribes.  It’s not strategy. It’s who he is.

Benny Gantz spent two years in the ring sparring with Netanyahu – a politician who has few scruples left and is chronically dishonest, dishonorable and manipulative. With the convenience of hindsight, it is easy to pontificate that Bibi never intended to honor a coalitional agreement that should have saved the country.  It is also easy to see that Gantz did the right thing in making the gamble.  Like most Israelis, I believe him when he says he will not make that mistake again.

I am not ready to live in a country where people believe that a leader’s fundamental integrity and honesty make him ineligible for political support.  As I see it, that is actually the best reason to vote Blue and White.

About the Author
Alon Tal is a professor at the Tel Aviv University Department of Public Policy and a veteran environmental activist.
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