Election 2019: The Gantz Enigma

Leftists line up to follow former IDF chief proud of devastating Gaza in order to unseat Netanyahu, the ‘angel of destruction’

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Of all the new parties established ahead of the upcoming election in Israel, Hosen Le’Israel (Israel Resilience) is the only one posing a serious challenge to the ruling Likud. 

According to polls, former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, founder and head of the party, will win 13 seats in the Knesset, despite the fact that he is running on a platform as devoid as possible of details. “Silence is golden” seems to be Gantz’s electoral motto, and as odd as it may seem, the tactic appears to be paying off as the former general is receiving more media attention than any other politician, save the prime minister himself.

But as hard as Gantz tries to obscure his political views, there’s little doubt that he is a moderate leftist. After analyzing the nameless people working on Gantz’s campaign (see below), journalist Tal Schneider identified almost all of them as former left-wing party members. 

That leftists would follow a military leader who takes pride in the severe blows he dealt to Hamas-ruled Gaza (Gantz oversaw Operation Protective Edge in 2014) is something of an anomaly on the Israeli political scene. In a short video clip titled “Only the Strong Survive,” the campaign lauds Gantz for bringing three-and-a-half years of relative quiet to the area by “sending parts of Gaza back to the stone age” and killing 1,364 local Hamas members. 

Why so many Israelis, even from the radical left, are now rallying behind Gantz is intriguing, and may pose a more serious challenge than right-wingers are willing to consider. In an op-ed titled “Why Gantz, and only Gantz” published by the left-wing daily Ha’aretz, writer Orian Morris puts himself in the line of fire by supporting the former IDF chief. Despite his disliking Gantz’s body-count clip, Morris still considers the general to be the only honorable contender, and as such the one with the best chance of winning the election and “saving” Israel’s democracy, which is the whole thrust of the current left-wing campaign against Netanyahu and the right.

To justify his position, Morris challenges some of the left’s views, that in his mind have kept this camp in the opposition for decades. To begin with, he writes, leftists should overcome their desire to polish their delicate moral conscience by voting for fringe parties like the United Arab List or Meretz. The coming election, he insists, is not about fastidiousness, conscience or even about resolving the conflict. It is about “saving the country’s institutions from a criminal movement [Likud] under the leadership of the ‘angel of destruction’ [Netanyahu].” The greatest threat to Israel, he continues, is not Iran or the Palestinians. It is the polarization of Israeli society and the politics of hate. As an honorable, honest and responsible person, Gantz is the best candidate to this corrosive trend.

Regarding “occupation,” until now the most important leftist concern by far, Morris explains that the paradigm is false. “If the left wants to win, it must stop talking about the occupation,” says Morris. “In truth, Palestinians and Zionists are fighting over the same land called The Land of Israel [from the river to the sea].” Accordingly, if the left wants to win the election, it must put aside its two most important flags – its refined conscience and its dream of a peaceful Palestinian state. In this framework, where occupation is viewed as a necessary evil, Gantz’s “appalling” military record can be whitewashed by an assumed impeccable personal character.

For the many Israelis who despise Netanyahu and his policies, but nevertheless still view themselves as dedicated Zionists, Morris’ arguments in favor of Gantz could sound extremely attractive.


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