Blue and White Party chairman and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has insulted the decency and morality of Israel’s public, drawing false and dangerous comparisons between Israel’s current political dysfunction and the contentious period during which Israel entered into the highly controversial Oslo Accords in the early 1990s.
Earlier this week in a televised address, Gantz called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the state prosecution following Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict the premier “incitement,” warning Netanyahu supporters not to engage in violence.
In his speech, Gantz said that the current political situation “is risking igniting an internal war between us. In the face of his [Netanyahu’s] calls of incitement and hate, I stand here before you in the name of many people from right and left and tell you: ‘It’s time to heal Israeli society.’”
Gantz then added that Netanyahu, “the man who led a harsh and painful incitement campaign against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—a campaign that ended in a terrible national disaster—should well know the dangerous price of words that could, heaven forbid, turn into deadly bullets.”
Speaking after Gantz, Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid similarly accused Netanyahu of inciting violence.
These comments should make anyone who believes Gantz to be an honest broker and an honorable replacement for Netanyahu pause in their tracks. While implying on the one hand that he is a leader who can heal the rifts in Israeli society, Gantz is now projecting his distrust of Netanyahu onto the millions of Israelis who have continually voted for his Likud Party and the parties that continue to pledge their support Netanyahu.
It should be noted that amid Gantz’s calls for “unity” and “healing,” Blue and White outright refuses to sit in a government with religious Jewish parties, while unsuccessfully angling to create a minority government with outside support from self-proclaimed anti-Zionist Arab parties. With Israel’s religious population growing faster than any other segment, ostracizing this important sector of society threatens Israel’s ability to constructively tackle complex and urgent issues of religion and state.
Similarly, charging that today’s Netanyahu supporters might otherwise erupt into physical violence over their backing of one of the most successful and competent prime ministers in Israel’s history—as a lone Jewish gunman did to assassinate Rabin in 1994—threatens the very fabric of Israeli morality.
Yet much of Israel’s left-wing media are amplifying Gantz’s dangerous and disingenuous messages.
On Sunday, the editor of the progressive Times of Israel website, David Horovitz, penned an op-ed titled, “Netanyahu’s Likud loyalists must end their silence, reduce risk of civil war.”
Later in the article, he referenced Gantz’s speech, saying “the Blue and White leader warned that Netanyahu risked dragging Israel into civil war—literally, as he put it, a ‘war of brother against brother.’”
The op-ed’s headline was later toned down, calling for Likud loyalists instead to “reduce risk of political violence,” while the article text was changed to say that “Netanyahu risked dragging Israel into something akin to civil war.”
The idea that Israel is at risk of civil war is patently ludicrous. To date, there have not been excessively large public gatherings for or against Netanyahu. The political dysfunction has been an event Israelis watch on television and discuss rather calmly—particularly in contrast to the toxic political discourse in the United States.
While there is certainly general frustration over politicians’ inability to do their jobs and form a government, the nation is nowhere near a breaking point.
More importantly, the issues currently affecting Israel’s political and media cycle bear no comparison whatsoever to the period in which Israel entered into the fateful Oslo Accords.
That peace process, which has proven itself to be an abject failure, was an extremely risky and political maneuver that effectively turned over large portions of an otherwise tiny Jewish state—and those areas of the richest biblical history—into the hands of arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The nationwide tensions created during that period, as well as the later disengagement from Gaza, were existential in nature. Signing the Oslo Accords ripped into the very foundations of Israel’s function as a modern state of the Jewish people, and raised significant security concerns as well. Two decades of terror and incitement have proven the severity of that diplomatic mistake.
By contrast, the issues causing Israel’s current political dysfunction have nothing to do with policy—let alone existential challenges.
The political mess has cost billions of shekels that could have been invested elsewhere and may have slowed the sharp trajectory of growth that Israel has exhibited during the past 10 years under Netanyahu’s premiership. But it does not in any way directly threaten the essence of Israel, or its future as a secure Jewish and democratic state.
When it comes to major political and security issues, there is a general consensus among opposing parties, with the key disagreement in the last election cycle being over which party leader might go first in a rotation arrangement in a “centrist” government.
The effectiveness of Israel’s parliamentary system is most definitely being challenged. The reasons for that go way beyond whether Netanyahu is guilty of corruption or Gantz is a suitable replacement.
There are nine parties in the current Knesset. Knesset members are not directly elected; most are simply handpicked by their party’s chairmen who themselves are not accountable to any voters. Coalitions are formed only on the basis of political give and take. A Knesset majority must factor in Arab parties (who currently hold 14 seats) that have never joined a coalition government led by either the right or left.
Add to that an overreaching justice system that selects its own justices, overturns laws at will, forces the government to pass and enforce new laws as it deems necessary and continuously opens investigations against elected officials. These factors and others make stable governance in Israel’s hyper-democracy difficult, if not miraculous.
Yet throughout this unprecedented situation, the mandate to govern has continuously been returned directly to where it belongs in any democracy: the people. Where the leaders have failed to properly do their jobs, it is the public who gets to decide who should have the next chance to govern.
It is both unfair and inaccurate to project the instability of Israel’s parliamentary system onto the public simply because a plurality has continuously supported Netanyahu as the most competent player in a dysfunctional system he did not create. Rather, it is the people of Israel who are the victims of the government’s inability to function, as well as of the current insults to their intelligence and sense of morality.
By and large, the people have been all too patient considering the circumstances, and there is every reason to believe that they will continue to exercise decency and restraint regardless of future political outcomes.
Alex Traiman is the managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate