As was perhaps to be expected, the response across the Israeli political spectrum to Benny Gantz’s inauguration speech has ranged from critical to dismissive, with both the right and left criticizing Gantz for doing little more than repeating popular and populist slogans, with little detail on how he would accomplish his goals. One area that he did make a specific policy pronouncement in, however, was how a government led by him would relate to religious issues – and for this, chareidi and Religious Zionist politicians slammed him.
In his speech, Gantz touched on numerous hot-button religious issues. “We will advance the Kosel framework plan” to provide Reform groups with their own space at the holy site, “and we will promote public transportation on Shabbos in towns that choose to do so. But we will ensure that the holy character of the day is preserved.” His government, said Gantz, “will respect Jewish tradition and will enable everyone to live according to their beliefs and values.”
With that, he said, he would seek to “cement ties and create partnerships with chareidim, the Arabs and the Druze. Everyone will be my partner. Even if we do not succeed in making peace with our enemies, we will work hard to make peace among ourselves.”
Shas leader and Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri responded by saying that “after weeks of silence, this is the big news you have for us? A Reform Kosel? Public transportation on Shabbos? You claim you want to unify the nation, but this will divide it further. Do not destroy the delicate fabric that connects us. Do not harm Jewish tradition.”
Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that “Gantz showed in his speech that he was a political rookie. In one breath he talks about partnering with the chareidim, and in the next he declares support for public transportation on Shabbos and the Reform Kosel. The two just don’t go together. History proves that keeping the tradition and promoting religious issues is the key to political success, while an anti-religious agenda is a sure formula for failure.”
Yossi Cohen, a candidate for the National Union list, reiterated those thoughts. “There is nothing new here – just another anti-religious and anti-tradition platform, this time courtesy of Gantz. The Jewish people love their tradition, they love Shabbos and they love the Kosel. Most of us Jews are very happy with the Judaism that has sustained us for thousands of years. It’s sad that this would be the first solid thing someone seeking to lead the nation would say.”