13 April 2019

9th of April 2019- Parliamentary elections in Israel- The war of two “B”: Benny versus Benjamin

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

Image source: Mediafax

Two swords in one sheath • Benjamin’s teachings to his rival, Benny • Candidate Benny Gantz and the homework • Before epilogue • Who will say the magic word “Zachiti”/ “I won”


A few months ago, Benjamin Netanyahu’s road towards the Israel’s fifth prime-minister mandate seemed easy. A victory at these elections would have pushed him towards becoming the most longevous prime-minister in Jewish state’s 70 years of history, surpassing even its founder and father, David Ben-Gurion. 

But the obstacle came from the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, General Benny Gantz, the one who, after having a three years of political activities interdiction penance, a condition imposed to the military commanders, was about to make the announcement of running for the elections, at least to pepper this campaign which seemed to be too grey and not surprising at all. 

“I want to thank prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the 10 years of service. We will continue from here” said firmly and provocative the former general during his speech, at the beginning of the electoral campaign.

His electoral program is the least detailed of the entire electoral offer of the current elections. As the right side was already occupied not only by Likud, which is prime-minister’s Netanyahu, but also by a series of hard to manage conservative and religious parties, the General chose the center, center-right side actually, because the idea of being associated with the left in Israel’s current political atmosphere is a long-term passport for the opposition.

Until 21th of February, the registration deadline of the electoral coalitions and parties, the party of the politician General Benny Gantz, Hosen L’Ysrael/ Resilience for Israel, was quoted to around 15% of electorate’s options, comparing to Likud’s 25%.

After the announcement, made at that time, of the Blue and White coalition (Israel’s national colors), composed of Gantz’s party with the center party Yesh Atid / There is a future, of the former Finances Minister, and Telem / National Movement, funded by another former chief of the Israeli army, Moshe HYPERLINK "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moshe_Ya%27alon"Ya’alom, Likud got down, for the first time in this electoral campaign, on the second place.

It was the moment that pushed the panic button for Benjamin Netanyahu, and the alarm ringed loudly in Likud’s electoral district when, only one week afterwards, when the Israeli General attorney announced that the Public Ministry intends to charge the prime-minister for corruption. Before becoming the prime-minister and leading the government for a record period, Netanyahu was the first Israeli prime minister in history who was under prosecution, in a preliminary form, while having this position.

Since this moment, the electoral campaign became a true war, and Benny Gantz, the former military chief, assigned by the exact person he intends to replace now, was going to quickly discover that there are more sophisticated weapons to use than the ones he trained and fought with and have the same result, to annihilate the enemy. The expression “no prisoners” applies to politics also, and the current Israeli prime-minister has always been a fighter who can turn adverse circumstances in his favor.

Benjamin’s teachings to his rival, Benny

Chivalry does not match the contemporary electoral campaigns anymore. One does not take the power by showing the enemy, actually the electoral enemy, the cards he has. And doesn`t turn the other cheek when someone plays dirty. No one does those things anymore, neither politicians, nor the ones voting them, the electors who identify themselves, sometimes, with their leader and accept all their methods used to win. As Netanyahu is ten years older and has almost four decades more than his competitor since dealing with politics, the Israel electoral campaign was transformed into an Intensive training course about giving the political enemy what he deserves for thinking that he can get, just like that, the Balfour Street, corner with Smolenskin, at Reit Rosh HaMemshala (the Jerusalem residence of the Israeli prime-minister).

First teaching: the American model works

An unproved relation with a foreign power, actually with that foreign power, and a small sexual scandal are the perfect ingredients that seem to have worked in the 2016 US elections and were applied until now successfully, also in the Israel elections. In Washington we are referring to Moscow, in Israel to Teheran.  The incident was provoked by a source-based leaked information to the media according to which Benny Grantz’s phone would have been illegally accessed by a foreign power. It is not clear if that power is actually Iran, as part of the media say it is, but, because Shin Bet, the internal security agency, did not make any statements,  it is "clear" that Teheran is behind all of this.

Prime-minister Netanyahu broke away from this incident, he was not informed, he does not know, but his counsellors have underlined, on social media, the electoral landscape of the coalition led by Grantz. It did not even matter anymore that the incident happened four years after leaving the military position, months before starting the electoral campaign, and that the revealings took place also when the prime-minister himself was having electoral credibility problems (it was being announced general attorney’s intention to charge him). And neither that Shin Bet works directly under prime-minister’s authority.

The conclusion was that the former chief of the Israeli army, the most trustable candidate of the opposition, was having a security issue. But also another one, because the media asked, without having any clue to that end, if there was not something compromising in phone’s memory as well, meaning something sexual. Candidate Grantz answered that there was nothing he could be blackmailed for. What does that mean?

And, following the American model used by the democrats, who tried to demonize Trump for his supposed connection with Russia, Likud’s media has immediately promoted the idea that not only Gantz, but also his coalition partner, Yair Lapid, are Iran’s favorits in this electoral competition.

Second teaching - voters prefer fighters

And when it comes to politicians, they are not only the ones who shout out their catchphrases and detail their governance programs in electoral meetings. But those who create the idea of feeling comfortable in any situation, not refusing a challenge, a debate, or an uncomfortable position. Those who create alliances where many see only disputes. Those who prepare winning scenarios even in case of failing.

Benny Gantz, who is barely starting this political career, has entered the scene with a “minimalist” approach. Few public appearances and “safe” media meetings. All to create the idea that he is country’s liberator, because he defended it during both conflicts with Hamas, 2012 and 2014, that took place under his mandate as chief of the army, that he is different than Netanyahu, the prime-minister who is accused for corruption. However, his military career, but also his public appearances from electoral campaign’s start, are revealing a nice, good guy, maybe too nice to become a prime-minister. The Israeli society is already under the “Security man” drug influence, the role Netanyahu assumed so well. In order to fight that, one needs more than set up meetings and having a military experience.

As the electoral campaign entered in a phase full of violent allegations, playing the nice guy, who does not fight back or, when doing it, adopts a moderated, peaceful tone, does not look good for the voters. Gantz was permanently in defensive and only the phone scandal made by the Iranians mobilized him to get to offensive. But, with the lack of training and the hardness of the other “B”, Benjamin, results are not encouraging.

Third teaching: support from a strategic partner

Just as you have to show that his electoral enemy is supported, even indirectly, by that foreign power, you also have to send your own electoral message to say that country’s main strategic partner is supporting you. And this is where Netanyahu has so much to show (being Israel’s former ambassador to UN), and Gantz, as politician, does not (only former military attaché to Washington). Contrary to the public opinion, which goes for the opposite option, the US can decisively influence the Israel elections, with the position it has against the candidates for the prime-minister position and their electoral programme. And the Israeli people are perfectly aware of what that means.

Hence, the direct, personal relations between president Trump and prime-minister Netanyahu, confirmed through decisions like moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the hard position against Iran, the recent announcement about a possible recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights can be very important for the result of this electoral campaign. Asked recently about where he stands on the Israeli prime-minister being charged, president Trump showed, directly, his support: (Netanyahu, n.n.) „Has done a great job as prime minister. … He’s tough, smart, and strong”.

In order for this relation to have a counterbalance, candidate Gantz went to US, being the main speaker at the annual reunion AIPAC / American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a strong organization for the Israel lobby. While writing these paragraphs, Gantz is planned to deliver a speech on 25th of March, and on 26 prime-minister Netanyahu must deliver his, this time having a secondary role. Gantz’s victory image will probably not last long, because Israeli prime-minister’s voyages to Washington end, each time, with a visit to the White House, to see partner Trump. Which is something Gantz must wait for, at least for now.

Fourth teaching - if you are centrist, you are actually leftist

Newbie in politics, Gantz found the political scene already forcefully occupied on the right side, the one to bring most of the votes, a left side which always loses, more and more weakened and associated to the Israeli Arab parties, hence the center was the only space he could have get votes from. His electoral programs, with less concrete elements, addressed the rightist voters who want a change after ten years under the same prime-minister, but also center-left voters who would want, given how the society works today, right policies, however not implemented by Likud. In the first part of his electoral campaign, this option worked. Following the slogan „There is no more right and left, there is only Israel before everything”, Gantz has tried to offer an alternative to Netanyahu’s conservative policies, many having as result divisions increase in Israeli’s society.

But when you take this stance, you must embrace political options from both sides of the political spectrum. This makes you vulnerable, also, to critics and attacks from both directions. For prime-minister Netanyahu, for Likud, the center is somewhere to the left. For candidate Netanyahu, there is only left. Likud’s extremely disciplined and aggressive team is not allowed to use the word “center” when it comes to Gantz and the Blue and White coalition. All references and commentaries must induce the idea that they are leftist. At a Likud meeting with the prime-minister, one of them suggested to speculate the differences between the right and left options inside the opposed coalition. Netanyahu immediately answered: „No way! Absolutely not! Don’t even mention the word ‘right.’ Only left, left, left!”.


Candidate Benny Gantz and his homework

With all prime-minister Netanyahu’s political tactics, the Kahol Lavan coalition, led by Gantz and Lapid, continues to be equal and, sometimes, superior to Likud in the polls made periodically.  Coalition’s electoral campaign was taken by Lapid’s team, more incisive and well-prepared for the media wars. With more than two weeks before the elections, the result is still unpredictable because it depends on some variables:

  • Which will be the first party / coalition given the votes (because it will be ordered to attempt to gather a parliamentary / governmental coalition. Sometimes, which is often, the first to come takes everything!);
  • How many parties will pass the 3,25% of the votes to be represented in parliament (because these parties distributed in secondary roles allow creating coalitions);
  • What will happen in what’s left of this electoral campaign;

Until then, candidate Gantz (for the record, his father comes from Sovata, Romania) will do some more homework:

Homework 1: You have an exceptional military experience, paratrooper, commando officer, fighter in the North, Lebanon, commander during the wars against Hamas, former chief of the army, retired lieutenant general, but also the idea that it is not enough to make it in the civil activities, like politics. Eleven of the twenty chiefs of the Israeli army before him have tried it also, and only two of them became prime-ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. The solution? Deadline: 9th of April 2019.

Homework 2: You have a prime-minister with 10 years of experience in this positionfor whom White House`s doors are permanently opened, whose name is connected to Israel’s actual security, who proved that knows all of the tactics used to win political battles, but also the idea that there is an erosion of the “Netanyahu myth”, that Israeli voters would want a change, but they want someone to offer them the same security guarantees. The solution? Deadline: 9th of April 2019.

Homework 3: You have a divided political scene wherein pre-electoral maneuvers have created the circumstances where rightist coalitions may become majoritarian even with Likud losing the elections, starting from the premise that, even wining the elections, the Blue and White coalition stays in the opposition, as it is not able to collect the 61 mandates necessary for governing: The solution? Deadline: 9th of April 2019.

Post-election fourth homework: You have an extremely critical relation between Israel and the Palestinians, reaching a historical decision moment, which has actually made US negotiators team interfere, for a new peace plan to be announced, most likely, after the elections. The plan is elaborated, according to some sources close the Palestinians, to answer more to Israel’s security needs and to the economic ones of the Palestinians, following the ideas given by the Israeli prime-minister. The premise is his rejection by the Palestinian part, and after the announcement about the possible recognition of the Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the Arab states will probably join forces against him. Peace must wait. The solution? Deadline: , but the sooner the better.

Before epilogue

The emergence, in fact, the re-emergence of the corruption scandal called “Submarine”, wherein prime-minister Netanyahu, exonerated by justice (by the same attorney general that accuses him for corruption!), is connected to it directly through an agreement he would have done with the producer, Germany, without consulting country’s security factors, to sell the same type of equipment to Egypt, also, shows that Gantz-Lapid’s team has some solutions to their problems as well. Even for “B”, from Benjamin, two major scandals in one electoral campaign can be hard to manage.

But in Israel, maybe more than in other parts of the world, unexpected gestures and events can quickly change the course of an electoral campaign and public’s sympathy for a candidate or another. And until 9th of April, there is plenty of time for other attacks and fight backs, media ambushes, reveals and allegations. Benny and Benjamin remain on the stage until the final phase, when only one of them will be able to say the magic word “Zachiti!”/ “I won!”.