There is huge political news out of Israel today. Benny Gantz, the former army chief of staff and leading contender against Benjamin Netanyahu as the head of the Israeli Resilience party, has joined forces with another right-centrist, Yair Lapid, of the There Is A Future party, and worked out a power sharing arrangement in which Gantz would be prime minister first, followed by Lapid 2-1/2 years later, if they can win in the April 9 election.
The “Blue and White” party is heavy on Israeli generals who hope to deprive Netanyahu of the “security” argument. Moshe Ya’alon, Netanyahu’s former defense minister, would resume the role, and another former army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi joins the list “out of a sense of the significance of this moment and a sense of national duty,” according to the new grouping’s statement.
Netanyahu’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely called the bloc “the new Labor Party.” The polls cited by Haaretz show that the joint party could overtake Netanyahu’s Likud, and that nearly equal numbers of Israelis favor Gantz as favor Netanyahu.
Haaretz reports that Likud responded today in anger and race-baiting:
The choice is clear: It’s either a left-wing government headed by Lapid and Gantz and supported by a bloc of Arab parties, or a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu.
The new bloc has nothing to say about Palestinians or the West Bank; Gantz has only said in recent days that he would not build illegal settlements as “wildly” as Netanyahu.
But the merger of Gantz, Lapid and Ya’alon is music to the ears of American liberal Zionists, who dream of dethroning Netanyahu and restoring the “left” in Israeli politics. “They deserve full praise,” writes Martin Indyk. J Street characterized the emerging bloc as a “political bombshell.” Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum sees hope in the bloc. “It is great to see two politicians who both deeply believe that each should solely be prime minister set their egos aside and agree to a rotation, particularly since each has the precise strength that the other lacks,” he tweeted.
Koplow later wrote that the merger has set off “euphoria… among the anti-Netanyahu set” and spoke of the “vision” that Gantz/Lapid represent for Israel’s future.
Not only is the Gantz-Lapid sundae with an Ashkenazi cherry on top Netanyahu’s worst political nightmare come to pass, it comes at a time when the contrast between Netanyahu’s vision and the alternative vision could not be starker.
Richard Goldwasser tweeted yesterday and today with hope and anticipation:
75% of Israelis will vote against this [Netanyahu] insanity… My dear friends in the 75%, pull your sh*t together…
Put your egos aside. You can do this.
See? Now was that so hard?
[T]he push for an opposition united under Gantz seems too urgent to be abandoned… To be clear, a Gantz victory remains a long shot, and, if it comes, will not be immediately transformative. It will embrace the “Jewish and democratic” muddle, be troubled by the “demographic” threat posed by the occupation, and begin with encomiums to the “unity of Jerusalem”—which will alienate the Palestinians who reside in the city’s eastern half and claim it as their capital. But a Gantz government—or so he said in his speech—will also “strive for peace” and “see no incitement against the judicial, cultural, and media institutions.”
BTW, Gantz’s chief credential to the Israeli Jewish public is that he brags of the Gaza massacre of 2014. “Parts of Gaza were returned to the stone ages.”
Chemi Shalev of Haaretz says the political news has unhinged Netanyahu:
The long awaited anti-Bibi Big Bang of Israeli has occurred: Gantz & Lapid will unite to form new party and popular former army chief Gabi Ashkenazi will join them. As of now, Netanyahu is in total hysteria mode.
The new coalition seems to have been spurred on in part by Netanyahu’s deal with what Goldwasser termed the KKK of the Israeli right, the Jewish Power party; which might turn out to be a blunder by the political mastermind. The menage brought an unprecedented level of criticism from American Jewish groups. “Bibi was brokering a deal with racist fascist terrorists,” Koplow said. Even rightwing voices have called that deal “despicable.”
We call on US officials and pro-Israel organizations to condemn Netanyahu’s efforts to bring these extreme racists into Israel’s next government…
As Israel’s prime minister and ruling party openly makes common cause with proponents of ethnic cleansing and right-wing terror, pro-Israel Americans cannot remain silent. To ignore or dismiss this development as mere political maneuvering is to enable a politics of hatred.
Dylan Williams of J Street noted that Netanyahu’s new partner is a “pro-ethnic cleansing, pro-terrorism party” that includes someone who called for burning down churches.
The Israel Policy Forum condemned the deal as a threat to the Israel lobby that seeks to guarantee Israel’s diplomatic protection. Chair Susie Gelman: “Netanyahu’s actions are feeding the estrangement of young American Jews from Israel, but they are also having an impact on people of my generation – people who have supported Israel for their entire adult lives.”
Even Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz expressed concern over the report that Netanyahu was making common cause with the David Dukes of Israel. “We should probably figure out a way to have an adult conversation about this.”
Israel supporter Jeremy Burton (who refuses to talk to supporters of boycott) slammed Netanyahu for aligning with racists.
Brad Lander, the NY City Councilman who has failed to criticize Israel at key moments, said Netanyahu’s logrolling was “Beyond the pale…. American Jews who believe in the ideal of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state have a responsibility to condemn his vile act.”
Former congressman Robert Wexler of the Abraham Center for Middle East Peace was quoted speaking of the damage to Israel lobbying:
“We Zionists & supporters of Israel in America make such an effort to rightly expose & highlight incitement on the Palestinian side. So when the Prime Minister gives this legitimacy to such an extreme party, it hurts our efforts.”
The Forward called out leading Jewish groups that declined to criticize Netanyahu’s move.
Nine major Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America, did not respond to questions from the Forward about Netanyahu’s successful efforts to merge the national-religious Jewish Home party with Otzma Yehudit, or ‘Jewish Power,’ a small party led by disciples of [Meir] Kahane…..The groups that did speak about the merger were largely critical.
If you are still carrying water for Likud, you are no longer representing your community.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs hails the American Jewish groups that condemned Netanyahu and that represent the real attitudes of American Jewry, as opposed to the silence from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Her liberal Zionist group T’ruah said Jewish Power’s inclusion “endangers Israel,” because it is made up of “extremists who celebrate violence and preach genocide.”
Ron Kampeas expressed horror at Netanyahu’s coalition building with “violent racists” as a threat to Israel and called on American Jews to oppose him, and challenged the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations for not speaking out against the action.
Goldwasser notes that AIPAC will host Netanyahu next month despite his dealmaking with racists.
Update: Polling suggests that the Gantz-Lapid bloc is strong but pulling from the left — Meretz and Labor voters — rather than causing defections from the right. Guy Ziv of American University says, “the right-left balance remains unchanged, so forming a center-left gov’t would be nearly impossible. Gantz/Lapid have 7 weeks to persuade right-leaning voters to join them. I mean that… the center-left bloc doesn’t have the numbers to form a gov’t, even though the new centrist ticket is ahead of Likud.”
Labor and Meretz are still having discussions to decide whether to form a left bloc. Though the Labor leader has ruled it out.