By Ruthie Blum, JNS
In weekend interviews ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz made a statement that explains his poor showing in the polls. Coupled with Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s address on Thursday to the United Nations General Assembly—in which he catapulted the dead issue of Palestinian statehood back to center stage—it presented a perfect snapshot of the left-wing bloc’s disconnect from the voting public.
“If [opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu manages to forge a narrow, extremist coalition, which is not good for Israel,” he told Kan 11 News on Saturday night, “invite me for an end-of-the-country interview.”
It has become par for the political course to exaggerate the dire consequences of an opponent’s victory. But preparing a eulogy for the Jewish state as it enters a new year is beyond the pale.
It’s particularly egregious coming from Gantz. He not only named his latest party “National Unity,” but asserted on Channel 13 that “the key to leading the State of Israel is the ability to connect right and left.”
This kind of contradiction in terms characterized the coalition that recently collapsed, forcing a fifth round of Knesset elections in three and a half years. It’s only one reason that Gantz deserves the pummeling he’s expected to receive at the ballot box. Another is his utter disregard for popular sentiment.
According to Gantz, the three choices are a broad unity coalition under his leadership, an “extremist” Netanyahu-led government or “elections forever.” It’s interesting that he views these as the sole options, when surveys indicate that he will garner around 12 seats to Lapid’s party’s (Yesh Atid) 23 and Netanyahu’s (Likud) 34.
Where “suitability for the premiership” is concerned, he falls equally short, with an overwhelming percentage of the electorate placing Netanyahu high at the top, Lapid second and Gantz a low third. In other words, if anyone is heading the anti-Netanyahu bloc, it’s Lapid, not Gantz.
Furthermore, as the latter claims that he won’t form a government with the anti-Zionist Joint (Arab) List, he can’t get anywhere near the necessary 61-seat majority without wooing the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties away from their support for a Likud-led government. This calculation is even part of his ad campaign.
The trouble is that the coalition he envisions has to include Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which has an aversion to the haredim and vice versa. The mutual enmity is even more legendary than that between Lapid and the haredim.
On the other hand, none of this really matters, as neither Lapid nor Gantz can make the math work. Gantz is clearly hoping to pull a stunt like that of former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who finagled a coalition when his party had only seven seats (that promptly went down to six and ultimately five).
Asked about the legitimacy of such a government—especially in light of a remark by former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot (number three on the National Unity slate) that 12 seats is insufficient in this regard—Gantz expressed confidence that the party would swell numerically in the coming weeks.
It’s a pipe dream that nobody believes will become a reality. In any case, after his inexcusable comment about Israel’s demise in the event of a democratically elected Likud majority with Netanyahu at the helm, he’d do well to stop counting imaginary mandates and get a head start on his Yom Kippur atonement.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”