Gantz Finally Speaks – And Gets Hit by the Right and Left

YERUSHALAYIM -
Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz seen with members of the Druze community and activists outside his home in Rosh HaAyin, during a protest against the Nation-State Law, Monday. (Flash90)

Former IDF Chief of Staff turned prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz has been very reticent about his views on almost everything – but after his first public policy statement, MKs and groups on the right are slamming him as a leftist who will attempt to undo the work Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the right have attempted to accomplish over the past decade. “The cat is out of the bag,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “We now know who the real candidate of the left is, the one who will be acceptable to Meretz voters  – Benny Gantz.”

At the heart of the criticism is a speech Gantz made Monday morning to a Druze group. “I will act to change the Nation-State Law,” which has been opposed by some Druze groups, mostly because of its definition of Israel as primarily a Jewish state, although there is nothing in the law to compromise the rights of any Israelis, Jewish or otherwise.

Right-wing MKs pounced on the comment as a sign that Gantz had aligned himself with the left. “The Nation-State Law is a historic achievement that returns the state to its true national, Zionist and Jewish personality, which has been worn down over the years by the High Court,” the New Right party said in a statement. “Gantz is promoting a leftist agenda.” Levin, of the Likud and an author of the law, said that “any attempt to harm the Nation-State law is an attempt to harm the Jewish identity of Israel. When Gantz attacks the Nation-State law and politicians like Tzipi Livni praise him for it, we all understand why – Gantz is a leftist, just like Yair Lapid.”

“The donkey’s mouth has been opened,” said MK Oren Hazan (Likud), referring to the famous dialogue between Bila’am and his animal. “The ‘prince of the left’ has learned to speak. If anyone had any doubt on which side Gantz is, he has made it clear that he is on the wrong side.” MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said that “the Nation-State law does not need changing. It’s a shame that the first time Gantz opens his mouth he attacks a Basic Law that cements Israel’s Jewish identity. His party is called the Resilience party, but he is harming our resilience.”

Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and new Likud member Avi Dichter had a different perspective on the comment. “It’s not surprising that this would be the first thing Gantz says, and to a Druze group, because the Madhat Yusuf incident is still casting a shadow over him,” Dichter said. Yusuf, an IDF soldier who was on guard at Kever Yosef, died of injuries sustained during a battle with terrorists in 2000. Family members blamed his death on Gantz, who at the time was the head of the IDF’s Yehudah and Shomron division. According to the family, Gantz refused to act to save Yusuf by sending in soldiers to defend him, instead preferring to appeal to PA police to rescue Yusuf. The PA police agreed, but left Yusuf in the field for four hours, where he eventually bled to death. “The Nation-State law does not hurt anyone’s rights, and for you, my dear Gantz, silence would have been preferable than this terrible comment,” Dichter added.

But Gantz didn’t find much support on the left either. Meretz head Tamara Zandberg said “the Nation-State law does not need ‘fixing,’ it needs to be eliminated. Even discussing this is a victory for the right, which has thrown the Declaration of Independence in the trash.” The only positive public comments came from Livni and Lapid. Livni’s Hatenuah said that it supported the idea of changing the law, and making it clearer that “Israel is a Jewish state where all are equal. Doing this will be among our first objectives after the election.” Yesh Atid said that the position “reflects the views of the majority of Israelis, who do not believe in leaving behind those who help Israeli security.”