It appears that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz has called his own bluff. Yes, the true colors of the so-called “center-left” Israeli party that has been trying desperately to wrest the reins from Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are bleeding all over its pearly white facade.
Ironically, this is not due to Netanyahu’s repeated warnings during the campaign ahead of the March 2 Knesset elections that a vote for Gantz was tantamount to a ballot for Ahmad Tibi, a prominent member of the Joint Arab List.
Tibi heads Ta’al, one of the four parties that makes up the Joint List. A veteran member of the Knesset, he was an adviser to and close confidant of arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, chief of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
“Bibi or Tibi” was a rhyming slogan that aroused the gleeful ire of both the Joint List and Blue and White, for ostensibly opposite reasons. The former called it “racist”—a typical Netanyahu “scare tactic” aimed at underscoring the treasonous disloyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens. The latter referred to it as “fake news.”
Netanyahu repeatedly clarified (correctly) that it is not the country’s Arab populace with which there is a problem, but rather the radical ideology of its anti-Zionist politicians, some of whom openly express support for terrorism, and few of whom care about and work to ameliorate the condition of their constituents. Indeed, it is the justified sense among Arab Israelis—whose neighborhoods are racked with criminal and tribal violence, among other woes—that their representatives in the Knesset are more preoccupied with the struggle of the Palestinians to destroy Israel.
Gantz, meanwhile, accused Netanyahu of spreading lies. He said there was no way that Blue and White ever would create a coalition with the Joint List or even request its outside backing in order to form a government. The “cockpit” of the “anybody but Bibi” party—its four top honchos—includes three former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defense Forces: Gantz, Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. How, they asked rhetorically, could they possibly accept any form of support from the Joint List, which views them as war criminals who committed atrocities against the Palestinians? The mere suggestion on Netanyahu’s part was outrageous.
Again and again, Gantz and Ya’alon took the airwaves and social media to stress Blue and White’s mission to forge a coalition of “Jewish democratic” parties, and to denounce Netanyahu for stating that without backing from the Joint List, Gantz wouldn’t have a chance in hell of forming a coalition, whatever the results of the third round of elections in less than a year were to yield.
He was right, of course. When the tally was complete (well, nearly, since the final count is still being determined, due to discrepancies at certain polling stations), Likud came out on top by three Knesset seats. And for a third time in a row, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, self-described as “right-wing secular,” prevented Likud from forming a government. As Lieberman himself admitted this week, this was due to his personal vendetta against Netanyahu.
Nor did he support Blue and White. But even if he had thrown his hat in its ring, this would not have provided them a Knesset majority. Whichever way you slice it—unless the Joint List is counted—the country leans to the right, not the left.
Nevertheless, like Gantz, Lieberman spent his campaign saying that he would never join a coalition, or recommend a party to head the government, which rests on backing from the Joint List.
Lo and behold, within a week after the election, Gantz wasted no time in performing a perfect about-face. Literally three days after telling Channel 12’s Rina Matzliah in no uncertain terms that he would not cooperate in any way with the Joint List, he backtracked.
It’s not unusual for politicians to renege on campaign promises. But this particular flip-flop was jaw-dropping, both given how immediate it was, and considering the Joint List’s platform, which includes, for example, opposing the Jewish Law of Return while supporting the Palestinians’ “right of return.”
It also rejects U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. You know, the “deal of the century” that Gantz claimed, upon his return from Washington at the end of January, to welcome. This was his way of trying to reassure disgruntled Likud voters that Blue and White would answer their ideological and political needs.
Thankfully, Gantz’s ploy to use the Joint List to help him create a minority government has little to no chance of success since members of Blue and White—most notably and vocally, MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser—have announced that they would vote against such a merger, which comes with costly, anti-Zionist strings attached.
Though Gantz & Co. had held up Hendel and Hauser as proof of Blue and White’s conservative credentials, the two right-wingers instantly became pariahs when they demanded that the party keep its vows.
Herein lies Gantz’s predicament. If he refuses to join a national unity government with Netanyahu, the country will be forced to undergo a fourth round of elections, which might not be possible in any case, given the increasing number of coronavirus patients and stringent quarantine measures that have been put into place.
As if that weren’t bad enough for the Manchurian Candidate, his having revealed that even an anti-Zionist partner is preferable to being second in a rotation as prime minister with Netanyahu has done him the kind of harm that could cost him his short-lived political career—certainly in the next election, whenever that may be. It’s already spurred Blue and White voters, as well as the families of victims of terrorism, to petition and demonstrate against his move.
In other words, Likud was right to tell voters that their choice was “Bibi or Tibi.”
The least Blue and White could do is apologize for having denied it. But then, hating Netanyahu means never having to say you’re sorry.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”