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The tragedy of Benny Gantz

Joining a unity government with Netanyahu was the responsible move of the kind of leadership that Israel has been sorely lacking, and it likely cost Gantz his political career
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (courtesy)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (courtesy)

The short story of Benny Gantz is full of good intentions. The 20th IDF chief of staff burst into Israeli politics like a thunderstorm. The center-left bloc, which, since the days of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, has failed to occupy the prime minister’s chair, welcomed Benny Gantz with open arms. Within just a few months, Gantz managed to unite most of the center-left bloc around him and established the Blue and White party that almost sent Netanyahu home. The tremendous achievement of Blue and White in the last three election campaigns, 35 seats in September 2019 and 33 seats in the September 2019 and 2020 elections, has not been seen since the great days of the Rabin-led Labor Party winning the 1992 elections. For a moment, it seemed that the messiah of the peace camp had suddenly emerged and here he was about to lead Israel to a safe shore. Yet, unfortunately, reality does not work according to one’s aspirations.

Despite much hope and goodwill, the Israeli political reality was particularly cruel to Gantz, whose political future today is shrouded in mist. Recent polls indicate that if elections are held, Blue and White led by Gantz could win as few as 10 seats, or even fewer. This is a significant crash for Blue and White and its leader, who in the three election campaigns was the undisputed candidate of the center-left bloc for prime minister. It is not inconceivable that when an alternative emerges in the form of a new center-left party, led by former chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot, along with Tzipi Livni, Ron Huldai, and Moshe Ya’alon, Blue and White will shrink even further and maybe disintegrate before the 2021 elections. The irony of fate is that Blue and White, the party that was created to replace the Labor Party as the dominant and leading party of the center-left bloc, will eventually end up in the same situation. But with one small difference: for Labor it took roughly 70 years to evaporate; for Gantz and Blue and White, it may take only two years.

Despite the tragedy and failure, Benny Gantz should be remembered fondly in the pages of Israel’s political history. There is no doubt that Gantz took a huge risk and gambled on his political career’s future in the name of Israel’s national unity. It would have been easier for Gantz to reject the path of unity government with Netanyahu and let the citizens of Israel go to the ballot boxes for the fourth time in less than 18 months. It was most convenient for him to keep a united Blue and White under his leadership and wait for the right political moment. But Benny Gantz chose otherwise. In his decision to join a unity government with Netanyahu and the Likud, which led to the split of Blue and White, Gantz proved that he is not an opportunist politician. On the contrary, Gantz illustrated that he is a responsible leader, something that is so lacking in Israeli politics.

A politician is not measured only by his statements. He should be measured primarily by his actions. In that context, Benny Gantz does not deserve criticism for deciding in favor of a brave move that eventually failed. Prior to the formation of the unity government, the State of Israel was on the verge of the COVID-19 crisis, and the last thing Israeli citizens needed was unnecessary elections. Committed to preventing that scenario and, at the same time, witnessing the rift among Israelis, Gantz eventually opted for unity. Hence, the formation of a unity government between the Likud and Blue and White was necessary, and Gantz deserves praise for conducting himself responsibly, even given the challenge of political morass.

There is no doubt that Gantz and his allies in Blue and White also have played a significant part in why Israeli citizens are expecting another election. Since the establishment of the unity government, it seems that all members of the coalition have been busy clashing with each other, instead of cooperating for Israel’s sake. It was appropriate that Likud and Blue and White work together in the government, while Israel so desperately confronts the most severe health crisis that Israel has experienced. Yet that may have been an impossible task for these politicians. Thus, it is very unfortunate that when Blue and White began to fall in the polls, Gantz chose to be dragged after some of his party members, who sought to challenge Netanyahu and Likud. Instead of leading and maintaining the stability of the unity government, Gantz tried to illustrate to the Israeli public and its critics that he is not willing to play second fiddle to Netanyahu. Eventually, this pattern of action undermined the stability of the unity government, and now the country is on the verge of another election campaign. Indeed, after being repeatedly humiliated by Netanyahu, Gantz had to demonstrate political strength, illustrating that he posed an alternative to Netanyahu and Likud. Thus, the collision seems to have been inevitable. 

Benny Gantz’s short path in Israeli politics is undoubtedly a political tragedy. Not only for him personally, but for the entire center-left bloc, which again failed in its mission to seize power. Gantz is not politically innocent, but his intentions to bring about change in Israeli politics and in the State of Israel were sincere. In spite of everything, history should cherish Benny Gantz as a responsible politician who took a risk for the sake of national unity and the prevention of unnecessary elections, though it meant his own attempt would eventually end in failure.

About the Author
Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales, UK, and an Adjunct Researcher at the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, Israel.
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