(January 30, 2019 / JNS) In truth, I wasn’t disappointed by Benny Gantz’s debut speech, because I expected nothing of it. It was clear that we’d be hearing empty slogans without any real ideological message, and that Gantz would join the delusional left-wing crowd that is dancing around the “Anyone but Netanyahu” bonfire of hatred.
Gantz had the gall to try a clear tactic of incitement by attempting to portray Netanyahu as part of a ruling family. Gantz knows how to say that Israel is wonderful, strong and stalwart, but to satisfy the center-left, he cannot admit that to a large extent, the person responsible for these achievements is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israel Resilience Party (a temporary name, until it turns out that it isn’t resilient) declared that Israel was facing challenges that “only leaders 1.95 meters [6’4”] tall can handle.” Who will wipe the mud out of the eyes of Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin—all of whom were quite short, but managed to lead the Jewish people to great achievements?
For a moment, I thought that Benny Gantz was competing in a beauty pageant or a professional soccer league. Yes, Israel has major challenges, and there is often an inverse relationship between a candidate’s height and his ability to lead. A leader’s success is a function of how lofty his vision is and how high he holds his head, not how tall he is in feet and inches.
Democracy is the best system of government that has been found. It allows every person to run for the leadership of the people. Benny Gantz identified a crowd of citizens who want something new and don’t really care what that new thing contains. He founded a party, gave it a name, and already sees himself as someone who is capable and deserving of leading the nation.
One might expect a freshman politician to demonstrate a modicum of modesty and responsibility. In the complicated reality in which we live, there is no room for amateurs. Empty slogans and nods to the rest of the world cannot serve as a substitute for vision and a defined path. Gantz has zero diplomatic experience, no experience in economics, and the fact that he has reserved three of the top 10 spots on his list for former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and his candidates – despite the polls predicting that Ya’alon won’t win a single seat—shows that he also has no basic political skills. Based on what I’ve read these past few days, I’m also doubtful about his military-strategic abilities.
John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, two of the greatest advocates of liberal democracy in the 19th century, were worried about its populist foundations, or in other words—that the street would be in control. Democracy can provide fertile ground for tricksters, jugglers and illusionists. They are easy to market to the masses, but when the truth becomes clear, the smashed illusions come at an unbearably high price. In his speech, Gantz threw out baseless delusions, hoping there are enough citizens who will be willing to follow his piping off a cliff.
Someone who wants to be elected and lead owes it to the public to roll out a practical, responsible, wise stance—one that must rest on two things: clear and stable principles, and responsible assessments of the facts as they stand. Gantz tried to wrap up the left and the right in a magic package of moderation. That is how he is presenting a challenge to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Labor leader Avi Gabbay. The right-wing public won’t fall for it.
Dr. Haim Shine is a faculty member of Israel’s Academic Center of Law and Science, and a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.