Israeli Election Campaign, a Tale of Two Benjamins
When early elections were called, it was thought that Netanyahu would win hands down. But now Benny has arrived.
By: Shiloh Israel Children's Fund
Once labeled by an American magazine as "King Bibi", due to his seemingly irreplaceable status, things may be changing for Netanyahu and his Likud party. With the attorney-general about to announce a possible bribery indictment against him, Netanyahu seems to be somewhat in defensive mode as his nation enters election season once again.
With elections scheduled for April 9th, there is a new Benjamin in town, and he seems to be taking Israel by storm. Formerly Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Benny Gantz has entered politics for the first time, forming his own Israel Resilience Party and seriously challenging Netanyahu's predominant right-of-center Likud. Recent polls show Gantz lagging just a few percentage points behind.
With seven weeks remaining until the election, Gantz is already the darling of the media. In a country that has always been enamored of generals and always seems to be searching for the latest messiah in the form of a new centrist party, Gantz seems to fit the current perceived need. Voters are flocking in droves to the tall and handsome Gantz, especially from the establishment left-wing Labor Party, which seems to be self-destructing more and more with each passing day.
Unlike the United States, Israel is a parliamentary democracy in which the citizens vote, not for an individual, but for a party, and the leader of the largest party has the challenge of forming a coalition with smaller parties, the goal being to attain a majority of seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.
Having said that, one might think that the focus would be on the issues, not on good looks or past military prestige, but in the age of mass media, the surface appeal is unavoidable. Until last week, Gantz didn't need to say a word on policy to achieve his strong standing in the polls. In fact, from his perspective, it was better not to say anything. But in a tiny country like Israel, where most issues are potentially explosive, issues eventually need to be confronted, and that's what happened last week, as the campaign began to pick up steam.
In his maiden policy speech, Gantz raised many eyebrows by praising Israel's now unpopular 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, in which some 10,000 Israelis were forcibly expelled from their homes in a bitter and painful process that nearly tore the fabric of the country apart. According to Gantz:
"It was a legal move that was adopted by the Israeli government and carried out by the IDF and the settlers in a painful but good way. We have to take those lessons and implement them in other places."
With President Trump's peace plan still not released, but already being publicly debated, it behooves all Israelis, as well as Americans who care about Israel, to understand that the "land for peace" formula that has been recycled and regurgitated by virtually every American administration in recent years, was proven dead after the Gaza withdrawal, when the Hamas terrorist organization set up its rocket launching pads on the ruins of the once peaceful and thriving Jewish communities.
By clearly hinting at further withdrawals from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) as being a positive option for an Israel that wants "to learn its lessons", Benny Gantz is going against an Israel mainstream that, to a great extent, is now opposing the land for peace formula. In one such recent poll, only 36% of the Israeli public believed that further withdrawals will bring peace. Now that Gantz is speaking out, his 2014 Gaza war conduct is being questioned, as well, after he said that it was correct to risk the lives of IDF soldiers in order to help reduce collateral civilian casualties among the enemy population in Gaza. The statement is especially disturbing, since it is well known that in every armed conflict, Hamas intentionally hides its armed forces, its weapons factories, and its missile launchers in civilian population centers, daring Israel to attack.
Yes, it is certainly true that Gantz is the new attractive face and popular new politician in a country that loves its generals-turned-
Netanyahu is a sometimes flawed, but experienced leader who has steered the Israeli ship through some unstable waters, developing new cooperative relationships in the Middle East at a time when they are badly needed and desired.
If Netanyahu's Likud wins, and especially if his potential coalition partners to his right also perform well, Israelis can sleep more soundly. As Benjamin Netanyahu faces his most difficult challenges, the world should know that he is still the better Benjamin. Benny Gantz is not the Messiah.
Shiloh Israel Children's Fund: https://www.shilohisraelchildren.org/