Benny Gantz, head of the new Israel Resilience party, has finally broken his silence.
In a clever election campaign, Gantz built expectations over what his party stands for by remaining mum on the issues for the past month. Last night Gantz delivered his first public speech and finally revealed his platform to an eager Israeli media. Given that Gantz is viewed as the only candidate able to seriously challenge Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership, the speech was the most important event yet in Israel's current election season.
While he is a former IDF Chief of Staff with a decorated military career, Gantz's political career is only a day old. His inaugural performance had the potential to either make or break him. The truth is that Gantz looked like an oratory student flawlessly repeating the intonation and body gestures he had practiced at home. It should also be noted that most of the 300 or so who attended the speech were paid campaign staff members behaving in accordance with some unseen instructions. In other words, the scene oozed superficiality. Still, it was a good show, and Gantz seemed to successfully transition from "playing dress-up" to becoming a real-world politician.
Novice though he is in this arena, Gantz delivered a good speech that touched on the main issues with which most Israelis are today concerned. He presented himself as neither left nor right, but as a unifier who can mend the bitter divides in Israel society. Gantz cut himself loose of the "new left" that is preoccupied with conscious-cleansing at Israel's expense. He didn't mention the two-state solution, and he insisted that the Golan Heights would forever remain in Israel's hands. Gantz criticized Netanyahu for being kingly, rather than stately, and vowed to serve the people, rather than have the people serve his personal ambitions.
But identifying the real issues and delivering a good speech are not enough. Gantz will have to show whether he is shrewd enough to form a bloc big enough to overpower Netanyahu and his loyal constituency.
His first move in this direction was to join forces with Telem, the newly-formed party of another former IDF Chief of Staff, Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon. According to current polls, Ya'alon's Telem wouldn't have passed the electoral threshold on its own. But a party headed by two generals might be too much even for many right-wingers, let alone potential voters from the left that Gantz and Ya'alon hope to woo. And if that weren't enough, there are rumors that the party might also be joined by a third former IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. Were that to happen, one might wonder whether or not we were witness some bizarre form of coup d'état.
It remains unclear whether or not Gantz has the makings of a prime minister, whether he relies on his own wisdom knowledge and experience, or is instead the product of good campaigners. The weeks ahead leading up to the April 9 election will reveal if Gantz is the real deal, or just an anti-Netanyahu poster boy. But if he turns out to be the former, there is a very real chance that Gantz could end the reign of "King Bibi."