Patriotism Becomes Issue in Israeli Elections

benny gantz
Benny Gantz, head of Israel Resilience Party, presents the party list in Tel Aviv, Tuesday. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Israel’s election campaign turned increasingly personal on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his main challenger, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, traded recriminations over who had sacrificed more for his country.

“For an entire decade, there has been a single ruling party. This time is different,” Gantz declared at a press conference announcing his party’s electoral list. “The ruler is afraid and sweating, and he and his yes-men understand that this time, a new ruling party is standing against them.”

Addressing PM Netanyahu, he continued: “When I was lying in muddy ditches with my soldiers during freezing winter nights, you left Israel for fancy cocktail parties in the United States. During the days I commanded life-threatening operations in enemy countries, you were making your way through TV studios. In the tense nights when I took a short one-hour sleep with my uniform and shoes on, you entered the clothing shops to try on designer suits.

“While I trained generations of commanders and combat fighters, you were taking acting lessons in a studio in New York,” Gantz said.

In response, Netanyahu defended his own military record.

“Benny Gantz, shame on you,” he said in a statement. “As a soldier and officer in [elite unit] Sayeret Matkal, I risked my life time after time for the country. I was wounded in battle with terrorists. I almost lost my life in a shootout in the Suez Canal for the security of the state you want to endanger with unilateral withdrawals and support for the dangerous Iran nuclear deal.

“The citizens of Israel will choose between a strong right-wing government headed by me and a weak left-wing government headed by you,” the prime minister said.

During the press conference, Gantz also said that he planned to phone Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to arrange an urgent meeting to conclude talks on a campaign merger to defeat Netanyahu.

“You can’t weaken the opportunity for a historic change due to a debate over job opportunities,” Gantz said, referring to reported disagreements over who would lead the combined effort.

“Let’s rise above [the differences], unite and win.”

Lapid subsequently issued a statement that “As I said yesterday on stage, we will leave no stone unturned, we will do everything to ensure we don’t miss an historic opportunity to replace the government.”

Gantz’s party list was more notable for who was missing than who was in it. Despite predictions that they would run together, Orly Levy-Abekasis and her Gesher party were not included. Merger negotiations have hit a snag, according to Channel 12.

Gantz was No. 1 and former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was No. 2, as expected.

Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn was No. 3, a development that did not go down well with the workers’ committee, where officials were saying that he can’t run for Knesset and be head of the Histadrut at the same time.

“The heads of the workers’ committees want him to decide one way or the other,” a top official told Walla News. “If he is leaving, then we will say thanks and see you later. Or he can stay. You can’t have a person doing half a job. With all due respect to the Histadrut chairman, he can choose a new path if he wants, but he must be decisive. Let him close the door as others before him did and move on.”

Walla said that they plan to rush through the nomination of the man Nissenkorn chose as his replacement – longtime Histadrut official Arnon Bar-David, who is currently acting Histadrut head. However, he is functioning in that post only because, officially, Nissenkorn is on vacation. Contrary to the impression he gave Israelis over the weekend that he was “leaving” the Histadrut, it has emerged that Nissenkorn has just taken a leave of absence.