Benny Gantz had three choices before him. He could have betrayed his voters by reneging on his central campaign promise of being an alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Alternatively, he could have betrayed his second campaign promise to not rely on the Joint List to form a minority government. Or lastly, he could have taken Israel to a fourth election.
Ultimately, Gantz was left to decide between rubber stamping Netanyahu’s corruption, his annexationist policies, and his attacks on Israel’s democratic institutions, or to back Jewish-Arab partnership with the representatives of the majority of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. On Thursday, despite polls showing that an overwhelming majority of his voters supported the latter option — and despite threatening to pass legislation that prevent Netanyahu from serving as he faces trial — Gantz opted for the former.
By entering into a unity government, half of Blue and White — a political alliance made up of three anti-Netanyahu factions — ditched Gantz and went to the opposition. The new government will be far-right, religious, and corrupt, just like the last one. This time, however, it will have Gantz’s moderate right-wing face.
If there is one thing we can learn from the last election cycle, it is that Gantz prefers to enter into a coalition with a corrupt prime minister over working alongside Palestinians. He prefers to dismantle the political project he has led over the past three election campaigns — which was devoid of any cohesive political agenda apart from getting rid of Netanyahu — in favor of joining the prime minister under the banner of working with “anyone but the Arabs.”
There is also a lesson to be learned from so-called “pragmatic” voting. It is difficult to recount the number of people and institutions that placed Gantz’s Blue and White party on a pedestal, claiming he was the only one who could get rid of Netanyahu, and thus voting for him was the sensible thing to do. Voters even left parties such as Meretz and Labor to support an alliance of ex-IDF generals (Gantz himself bragged that he had bombed Gaza back to the stone age) and Likud defectors. All in the name of replacing Netanyahu.
Those same voters are now discovering that they supported a party without any semblance of internal democracy, ideological roots, or a clear sense of identity. They are also discovering that doing so means that some of its leaders ended up taking advantage of voters for personal political gain.
It’s easy to excuse Gantz’s behavior. One can always pin the blame on Yoaz Hendel and Tzvi Hauser, two Blue and White ex-Likudniks who prevented Gantz from establishing a minority government backed by the Joint List. But all along, Gantz knew it would be impossible to establish a government without either the Joint List or Likud. Thus, it is clear that he lied to his voters the entire time, and that he himself is the one who rubber stamped the same kind of delegitimization of Palestinian citizens that hurt him in the first place.
Moreover, it is hard to believe that Gantz did not know what Hauser and Hendel’s position was. Why would he let two Trojan horses into his party? A leader of Gantz’s stature is not supposed to fold in the face of two backbenchers like Hendel and Hauser. Had he wanted to, Gantz could have openly declared he was entering into a government supported by the Palestinian parties, forcing the recalcitrant MKs into an ultimatum: either go with the plan, or take personal responsibility for a fourth round of elections.
This brings us to the second and far more significant excuse: the coronavirus crisis, which is a real and severe threat. But even in the case of the virus, Gantz had two options: he could have made history and pushed for the establishment of a minority government backed by the Joint List. There is no reason such a government couldn’t do a better job leading the fight against the coronavirus. The second option was to announce that he would allow the ruling Likud party to continue running the show for the next half year, after which he would be tasked with forming a government or go to another round of elections.
We will all pay the price for Gantz’s decision to whitewash Netanyahu’s corruption, endless rule, dismantling of the opposition, annexation, racism, occupation, siege, and war on the poor.
The left must now regroup and fight for the economic rights of the public at large during the coronavirus epidemic. This means ensuring a universal basic income for everyone; freezing mortgage and rent payments; deficit spending; taxing the rich; providing support to the Palestinian Authority; and providing financial assistance for asylum seekers and migrant workers. It means leveraging this struggle to rebuild the left camp around principles of peace, equality, and social justice.
If there is any consolation right now, it is the knowledge that those who head the left-wing camp in the Knesset today are the right people for the job.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.