(January 25, 2019 / JNS)
I have been wanting to get to know Israel’s hottest new politician, former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and to like him. But it’s hard, because he isn’t saying much, and his first campaign advertisements are misfires at best.
Parts of the Israeli public are thirsting for a substantial leadership alternative to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in office for a very long time. But Lt. Gen. (ret.) Gantz doesn’t quite seem ready to be that weighty substitute, leading off his campaign with safe and meaningless slogans like “Israel before all” and “We need something different.”
Worse still is the first batch of four ads released this week by Gantz’s Israel Resilience political party, collectively titled “Only the strong survive.” Three of the four ads militaristically boast how many Hamas terrorists Gantz killed when he led the IDF in “Operation Protective Edge” (1,364!); how many Hamas targets the IDF destroyed in Gaza under Gantz’s command (6,231!); and how Gantz ordered the airstrike that eliminated Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari in 2012. The gory ads brag that Gantz “sent parts of Gaza back to the Stone Age,” and that his actions “bought three and a half years of quiet” for Israel in the Gaza arena.
There are three things very wrong with these ads.
First, who is proud of the fact that Israel “sent parts of Gaza back to the Stone Age”?! This may have been the inevitable result of the fact that Hamas purposefully locates its weapons and firing squads in civilian buildings and barbarically employs women and children as human shields. It’s a sad consequence of the ongoing war that has been thrust upon Israel by the genocidal Hamas. Israel needn’t apologize for this. But the destruction that Hamas brings down upon Palestinians by warring with Israel isn’t something Gantz or any other Israeli leader should be proudly crowing about.
Thus, Gantz’s ad reflects distorted and hubristic thinking. It doesn’t reflect Israeli values. I recoiled at the video footage of bombed-out Gaza neighborhoods. What rotten election gimmickry! I can’t recall any such Israeli political ad before, and I don’t understand what Gantz was thinking. That this would shore up his credentials as a bold military leader? As if other previous IDF chiefs-of-staff haven’t clobbered Palestinian terrorist organizations before him? As if he has more scalps on his belt and is “prouder” than others about this?
Second, the swagger about enemy kills and destruction in Gaza can only be received by the Israeli public as self-mockery; an “own goal.” Given the events of the past 10 years, and especially last 10 months on the Gaza border, just what did all Gantz’s blows achieve? Has the enemy been truly deterred, or grown stronger and more audacious? Has Hamas ceased digging terror attack tunnels, building and firing missiles, shooting and bombing soldiers along the border, and burning our agricultural fields—or has it ramped up such attacks?
We all know the answer. So why would Gantz boast about achieving “three-and-a-half years of quiet”? That may be an achievement, but not one that resonates too deeply these days with the Israeli public.
Again, this ad misreads the public mood.
Third, and worst of all, is that these bloody, blustery ads evince a complete misunderstanding of Israeli right-wingers. Gantz’s team seems to think that waving photos of bloodied Hamas terrorists on-screen will sate the blood lust of right-wingers and bring him the right-wing votes he needs.
This is ill-conceived. The ads won’t buy Gantz any votes on the Israeli right because Israeli rightists are nothing like the caricature of the bloodthirsty hound that Gantz’s left-wing campaign team seems to have in its head.
Israeli right-wingers do not relish killing Palestinians; they recoil from it as much as any leftist Israeli. The difference is that, unlike left-wingers, they are just not quite so willing to blame themselves (or Netanyahu) for the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
The ads are such a gargantuan mistake that I bet there isn’t a single right-of-center or truly nationalist strategist on Gantz’s team; otherwise, they wouldn’t have so wildly misread the right and center-right public, and so gauchely produced these atrocious ads. And this tells me, too, that Gantz himself isn’t naturally of the right-wing, or that his pretensions of representing the center-right are questionable.
Gantz’s fourth campaign video is bizarre in the extreme. This is the video where he admits that peace with the Palestinians may be 50 years or more off into the future, but that nevertheless, “he won’t cease striving to achieve peace.” What the heck does that mean, practically? That he will, or won’t, embark on some fancy and dangerous diplomatic escapade if he were prime minister, like unilateral withdrawals from parts of Judea and Samaria? That he will coddle or crush the regimes of Mahmoud Abbas and Yahya Sinwar?
And here is the rub: Gantz’s peace ad prominently features a wistful photo of a smiling Yasser Arafat shaking hands with Netanyahu. What? Arafat?! The compulsive liar who snookered some Israelis into believing that his Fatah movement would be a true partner for peace? The archterrorist that even Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin (eventually) admitted he never abandoned his goal of destroying Israel? Arafat is the face that Gantz features in his virgin political manifesto; his identity card for Israelis?! What kind of insanity is that?
If, in this latter ad, Gantz is winking at left-wing voters, by saying in effect that “I smashed the enemy all my life as a military man, but really operated against my own conscience and now I have become a warrior for peace at almost any price without further battle, and even somebody like Arafat could be a partner”—well then, that tells us something useful (and scary), too.
Alas, Gantz’s first foray into politics is no more refined or sophisticated than the campaign launched (also this week) by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party. Lieberman’s blunt and gruff slogan is lo dofek heshbon, which roughly translates as “I couldn’t give a damn” about others—about what Hamas wants; what the ultra-Orthodox feel; what Israeli Arabs or the B’Tselem human-rights organization think; what boycott, divestment and sanctions movement activists do, etc.
Yay, Lieberman; he is a tough guy. A bit like knock-’em-dead Benny Gantz, perhaps?
I have some advice for Benny Gantz: Tell us who you really are and what you truly believe—not what your campaign team (so wrongly!) thinks that Israelis want to hear.
Also, you don’t have to distinguish yourself artificially from Netanyahu. What you should be trying to do is convince Israelis that you could be a worthy successor to Netanyahu and not too different from him in terms of his cautious approach to peacemaking and to war-launching.
Israelis are not looking for macho military leaders or for false messiahs promising peace, but for responsible statesmen who aren’t trying to fool them.
David M. Weinberg is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, jiss.org.il. His personal website is davidmweinberg.com.