Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz put an end to his political silence and came out of hiding on Monday. With just one short statement, he revealed that he intends to lead the center-left camp and have his party go head to head with Likud. His ability to do just that should not be underestimated.
The Likud Party understands this perfectly well, and that is why Gantz has been the target of its strategic attacks for weeks, maybe even months. The left has yet to come to this realization. By the time it realizes that Gantz and his party are positioned to be the final nail in its coffin, it may be too late.
The controversy over the nation-state law has clearly divided the Israeli public into left and right. Those for whom the Jewish character of the state is merely a demographic matter void of actual significance vociferously opposed the legislation, demonstrated against it and alleged that its enactment harmed the character of the state.
On the other end of the political spectrum, all the right-wing parties, including the haredi ones, which were not exactly thrilled with the nation-state law, fell into line and supported it, allowing the law to pass with a large majority.
For weeks, Gantz remained silent as politicans wondered which side of the political aisle he was on. Despite some assessments that Gantz was clearly on the left, some assumed he would try to portray himself as a centrist candidate who did not belong to any particular political camp.
This working assumption collapsed on Monday when Gantz, addressing demonstrators protesting the nation-state law outside of his home, spoke his peace loudly and clearly. With that, the masquerade came to an end. Gantz, who had already alluded through leaks to close associates he intends to run for prime minister, decided not only to choose sides, but to lead the side he has chosen as an alternative to the Likud for the premiership.
This is bad news for the Likud, but it is terrible news for the players on the center-left, for whom Gantz may prove to be a destructive force. It is still too early to say whether the former IDF chief of staff will succeed in creating the momentum necessary to overtake Yesh Atid and Labor to garner enough Knesset seats to compete with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. But if Yesh Atid and Labor are unable to block Gantz, it looks like the path has already been paved for him to become Netanyahu’s main opponent.
It is unclear why Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid, Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay, Hatnuah Party leader Tzipi Livni and their friends rejoiced at Gantz’s comments on the nation-state law, unless of course one of them plans to back the winning horse. Gantz’s success will have to come at their expense. On Monday, he pulled out a giant straw through which he plans to suck up their Knesset seats.
Still, Gantz’s success is not guaranteed. He has only made one statement thus far. A few missteps will be enough to keep away potential voters. Luckily for him, his potential rivals on the left are still fast asleep.
Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.