Is “Blue and White” party leader Benny Gantz just a sloppy orator, or do his accumulating blunders say something about his leadership capabilities? That’s the current topic of debate after Gantz made another botched remark in the run-up to the September 17 election.
Gantz was caught misquoting a famous Hebrew proverb that goes, “If a flame among the cedars fall, what avails the lichen on the wall?” (In other words, if even the mighty fall or come to a fiery end, what hope do lesser men have?) But instead of “flame,” Gantz said “shade,” and the land was in turmoil.
It’s just the latest in Gantz’s long string of rhetorical gaffes going back to his time as IDF Chief-of-Staff. Israelis still remember his “anemones speech” delivered right at the end of the 2014 military operation against Gaza. “We had a hot summer,” he said at the time, “after which autumn will come. The rain will wash away the tanks’ dust. The fields will turn green and the ‘red alerts’ will be replaced by the red of anemones, flowers and stability will be here for many years to come.” Since that speech, the ‘red alert’ sirens have sounded across southern Israel thousands more times, and the black of burning fields have replaced the characteristic red color of Israel’s national flower.
His far more frequent public speaking engagements since entering the political arena don’t seem to have helped Gantz get any better at this. Talking with the press a couple of weeks ago, Gantz was asked why he contradicted himself by saying at the same time that he won’t and will agree to from a government headed by Netanyahu. He responded jokingly that “my right ear is the M-16 side, which is why I probably didn’t hear the question.” He was of course referring to the “ringing ears” phenomenon known well to combat soldiers who suffer hearing loss after repeatedly firing their weapons next to their cheek. Days later, Gantz was photographed talking on his mobile phone, which he had placed on his right ear. That was enough to turn what started as a joke into a question of reliability.
In another interview, Gantz said, “My name is not Gabbay [former Labor head] and my name doesn’t begin with a G.” During the last election earlier this year, he said passionately, “I will form the next government, and no one will stop us, not the public, not the politicians and not anyone else.”
Though Gantz suppresses others, such fumbles have been used to belittle political opponents before. Former Culture Minister Miri Regev, to mention but one, was reduced to a complete fool after several attempts to poorly express herself. “I have made great improvements in my office, which I think even two ministers after me will not be able to fix,” she once said. The “I will keep Netanyahu united” gaffe by former Labor party head Isaac ‘Bougie’ Herzog during a 2015 election debate between him and the prime minister cost him dearly.
But it seems that this time such fumbles are being magnified simply because there is nothing else to talk about. When political camps reduce their ideological platforms to “Just Not Bibi” and “Only Bibi,” they produce a shallow discourse that focuses on otherwise irrelevant embarrassments that would have been ignored if more important things were put on the table.
However, there are those who insist that the type of blunders that have come to characterize Gantz’s public appearances expose not only incompetence, but an estrangement to the Jewish legacy that’s so central to most Israelis. That was the conclusion reached by popular right-wing journalist Shimon Riklin. Concerning the “shading” of the cedar trees, he says, “this doesn’t reflect an honest mistake [of Blue and White’s attitude toward Judaism]. It highlights their inner being: Disengagement from Judaism at all costs, and ridiculing those who remain steadfast to Judaism.”
Even if Riklin is right, and I don’t think he is, the fact remains that minutia has become the focal point for lack of better things to talk about.