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Why Benny Gantz is more dangerous than the Kahanists

Despite taking pride in bombing Gaza to the Stone Age, Benny Gantz is still portrayed by the Israeli media as a dove who wants to end the conflict. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By Tom Mehager

Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz delivers a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, February 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz delivers a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, February 28, 2019. (Flash90)

The partnership between the ruling Likud party and the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party is a prime example of how racism has been legitimized in Israeli public discourse in recent years. If in the past Likud had openly condemned Meir Kahane and his descendants, today those red lines no longer exist.

Even Shas leader Aryeh Deri showed signs of partnering with Otzma’s Itamar Ben-Gvir, something that in the past would have been beyond the pale for his party. All of a sudden, Netanyahu’s now-famous election day warnings of “Arabs going to the polls in droves” have become a terrifying reality. The prime minister has effectively paved the way for unabashed expressions of racism at the highest levels of Israeli society.

Yet the most horrific moment in the current election cycle has undoubtedly been the launch of former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s election campaign, in which he bragged about “sending parts of Gaza back to the Stone Age.” In this sense, Gantz and the popular mood he represents, are far more dangerous than the blatant racism of the Kahanists.

They are dangerous precisely because they can be translated far more easily into actual policies that could physically harm the right of people to life, shelter, and access to water, electricity, and infrastructure. If this is how we measure danger, then Benny Gantz is one of the most dangerous people in Israel — far more dangerous than Kahanists such as Ben-Gvir.

It is important to point out the differences between the violence of a political leader such as Gantz and that of Israel’s extreme right parties. While there is widespread condemnation of the far right from all sides of the political spectrum, as well as international community, Gantz represents the Israeli mainstream — proper, moderate, moral, and he has won the support of Israel’s mainstream media outlets, with left-wing parties such as Meretz expressing their support for his candidacy.

Gantz’s comments are reflective of a violence that is legitimate and acceptable in Israel — the kind of violence whose victims we do not talk or care about. If Gantz truly takes pride in carrying out such a criminal policy in the past — and it is clear not only that Israeli society lacks any mechanism or alternative voice to prevent it in the future (since it pays dividends to wide swaths of the voting public) — then a Gantz victory poses a real danger.

Members of Otzma Yehudit Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir attend the Central Elections Committee for the 21st Knesset elections during a hearing to disqualify them from running in the elections. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Members of Otzma Yehudit Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir attend a Central Elections Committee hearing on their disqualification from running in the upcoming elections. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In Israeli mainstream discourse, Gantz’s Blue and White party is widely viewed as center-left, one that will work toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — as opposed to the right and the settlers. But this is precisely the kind of collective self-denial that has previously blown up in our faces: Ehud Barak, the erstwhile leader of the Israeli left, returned from negotiations with the Palestinian leadership at Camp David by declaring there was “no partner” for peace. Until this very day, his remarks have been weaponized by the right every time the possibility of talks is raised. And they are right: “If the left has led negotiations, made various peace proposals, and still says there is no partner for peace, then of course there is no alternative to using force,” the thinking goes.

Moreover, if Benny Gantz, the moderate politician embraced by the Israeli left, prides himself on the violence he has meted out to the residents of Gaza, then Netanyahu and the right will only demand to use even more violence in every future military confrontation. Meanwhile, Gazans will be made to pay the price for Israel’s deceitful public discourse.

So how is it possible that Gantz is seen as a worthy alternative to the rule of the right? Because his Ashkenazi identity still enchants large parts of the Israeli public. Gantz carries with him the cultural capital of being the “salt of the earth” — a tall, blue-eyed, Israeli top-ranking military official. The 2019 version of Yitzhak Rabin. But just as the violence of Israel’s founding fathers is ignored by much of the Israeli left, which sees the roots of the conflict in the occupation of 1967, despite endless research and testimonies on the ethnic cleansing committed by the Zionist movement in 1948, so too is the violence committed by Benny Gantz ignored. No wonder, then, that it is so easy for the left to bristle at Netanyahu’s deal with fascists.

Tom Mehager is a Mizrahi activist. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Read it here.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Gantz’s Blue White party released its platform recently, and like most political platforms it’s full of vague language supporting motherhood an apple pie, but analysts seem to be concluding that it does not support a two state solution:

      Blue and White, the newly formed political faction that polls currently suggest will win the most seats in elections next month, will not include support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel in its party platform, national broadcast Kan reports…A Palestinian state does not appear in our platform.


      Also: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/03/israel-benny-gantz-yair-lapid-blue-and-white-party-labor.html

      Why is two-state solution absent from Blue and White party charter?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      Ok. Fine. You want more Bibi? You get more Bibi.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Yes I want Bibi. Because Tom Mehager is correct. And externally, in terms of how the Europeans and Americans get played by Israel, Ganz/Blue and White is just a fig leaf and a way of tricking everybody to go away for a while–“oh goody, the ‘leftists’ are in charge”–and “leave us alone while we ‘make peace.'” Had enough of that fakery over the past fifty years. No need for another go-round. Let the leopard show its true spots for all to see, without camouflage. Bibi is the leader Israel deserves.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          You know, we don’t get together around a large altar and conspire to elect someone else to “play the Europeans and Americans”. Or at least I wasn’t invited. Perhaps you mean to suggest there is a group of elders behind the scenes playing everyone and writing down some notes of the meetings?

          If the leopard has “shown its true spots for all to see”, then “all” saw it and have done nothing.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Firentis: Well, no it’s not a conspiracy. Israelis expect any government of theirs to play the Americans and the Europeans, it’s a given. (All governments play other foreign governments of course as a matter of realpolitik or whatever, Israel is not “singled out” in this sense, but Israel takes this to an intense, interesting and complicated level, an AIPAC level (see article by Scott Brown), a German-guilt-utilizing level, a kissy-face with Polish and Hungarian anti-Semitic xenophobe level.) No hidden elders, no protocols, no altars. No thanks. But Ganz allows Israel, fifty long years on, to reset the clock again, put on airs, pretend again to move towards real negotiations, and do the deadly things Mehager writes about under cover of being something fresh, “leftist” and anti-Netanyahu. All the fakery Mehager details—I don’t have to repeat Tom’s case. And no, all of us have not seen it yet. Better the real, ugly Netanyahu-Feiglin-Ben-Ari Likud Otzma coalition with Ben-Gvir and Benzti Gopstein braying in the chorus, and Oren Hazan singing falsetto. That opera the world, and an America with a changing legislative make-up (see article by Scott Brown), has not quite seen yet in all its glory.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Feiglin used to be in the Likud. Ben-Ari has already been in the Knesset. The world has seen this show and it didn’t care then, and it won’t care now. There will be one news cycle about how there is an extremist party in the Knesset and the “world” will move on. The world doesn’t care. It never really has. If the world is changing, it isn’t in the direction you want and not a direction that helps the Palestinians.

            Bibi has been in power for 10 years including 8 years of Obama and the Democrats. For 8 years Bibi ran Israel under pressure from the US government. And in the end it was Abbas that rejected Obama’s and Kerry’s efforts. Everyone knows who Bibi is. Is Bibi isolated internationally? Oh, do you remember how Israel was going to be isolated somewhere around 2016? All the talking heads were so sure it is just about to happen. Yeah, how is that going?

            The Palestinians should negotiate pragmatically instead on relying on some deus ex machina that will bring them victory over Israel. The longer they continue this conflict the more they will suffer.

            Reply to Comment
        • Tommy Goldberg

          I’m afraid it’s exactly the other way around, Ben.

          The notion that there is a Jewish center-left opposition in Israel which, if in power, would or at least might restart a meaningful peace process is exactly the excuse Western governments need to justify their continued inaction regarding Israel and Palestine. “Well, things might be different after a change in government. So there is no need for sanctions now. Let’s not interfere with the democratic process.”

          Let the center-left prove that it won’t do things any differently. Then it will be much easier to pressure Western governments to finally act.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That’s an interesting take on this, Tommy. You may well be right. I am saying what you are saying in your first paragraph, as I read it. The difference is in your second paragraph. I think you might possibly be giving too much credit to the Western governments and their electorate to figure this out as you have it figured out. You might be projecting your knowledge and insight on them. Versus it being spun as “We gave them so much, and yet the Palestinians won’t even make peace with a leftist like Benny Ganz. See? There is no partner for peace alas. It will take another fifty years.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            You are both missing the point. The electorate doesn’t give a fig.

            You pretend that there is this massive pressure on the Western governments to solve this issue or take pro-Palestinian positions and they need to justify inaction. Except that isn’t the case. There is a tiny loud minority that cares. Most voters couldn’t be bothered. What percentage votes on the basis of the position of politicians on the Israel/Pal conflict in any country? If there is a cost of action, regardless of the direction taken, and no significant political payoff to be had, the natural response of politicians is to say something meaningless and inoffensive and do nothing. “Blah blah blah peace, blah blah blah urge both sides to blah blah peace blah blah”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “For 8 years Bibi ran Israel under pressure from the US government”

            That humorous statement by itself tells me you are either running a hasbara line or you really believe your own propaganda. Israel is in many ways like a cult, honestly.
            The US electorate and the US Congress are changing. Jut the past week’s articles here testify to that.
            I mentioned to you German guilt utilization just hours ago and lo and behold, today an article on that theme too:

            The chain yanking on “anti-Semitism” is pretty brazen here, even for the “chairperson of the Lobby for the Struggle Against the Delegitimization of the State of Israel.” I really do have to hand it to the hasbarists for the clever way they adopt the opposition memes in the most victimhood-claiming, reality-reversing manner possible, the most “turn the tables on them” way. Brutally, coldy and cynically out gay Palestinians, then go to Germany and wave a rainbow flag and yank the chain on anti-Semitism and gush about how gay-supporting you are. Wow. It kind of epitomizes Israel’s whole approach to the occupation, don’t you think?

            Reply to Comment
          • Tommy Goldberg

            “The electorate doesn’t give a fig”, writes Firentis.

            Until it does. Consider the fight for marriage equality in the U.S. In 2004, constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage were a GUARANTEED election winner from coast to coast. How’d that work out for the opponents of marriage equality?

            In 2016, “supporting” Israel wholesale (while occasionally voicing mild and completely inconsequential diplomatic disappointment with Israel’s most egregious violations) was the U.S. political consensus, completely bipartisan. When a leading Dem didn’t attend AIPAC, he HAD to explain himself.

            Well, in less than three years, the “AIPAC coalition” has COMPLETELY lost the Democratic party. Things sure don’t change, do they?

            Reply to Comment
          • ARTH

            Israel is a country with a electorate that votes Right. One just has to accept that. If Ganatz passes as “left of center,” than there is no real Left. There is no true “Center” either……

            Reply to Comment
          • Tommy Goldberg

            Well, Ben, there’s going to be hasbara spin either way. But Bibi in power clearly hasn’t gotten us anywhere. I still think that pretty much the entire Zionist spectrum keeping Palestinians disenfranchised (with no end in sight) will make things clearer than any other constellation.

            But there’s another aspect: the Overton window. There is no hope of change unless it shifts back to the left, at least a little. Anything else simply normalizes the open racism of the Bibi camp. Don’t forget that we will need Jewish Israelis to affect change. Yes, pressure is necessary, but pressure alone won’t do.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I think that there is nothing but pressure. There is no significant shift back to the left by complacent Jewish Israelis without pressure. The cost to Israelis of the status quo has to be made higher.
            Noam Sheizaf:

            The Overton Window in the US (which someone like Ilhan Omar can shift by example and persuasion) because there is an underlying potential for a shift is entirely different than the Overton Window in present-day Israel. There is no Israeli Ilhan Omar. Neither Hanin Zoabi nor Tamar Zandberg are an Ilhan Omar or ever could be. Through no personal weakness of their own, but because the question itself in the Israeli context is absurd. Americans are not occupying Mexico or Canada and telling themselves god bequeathed them these territories by divine right or chosenness and voting for a Prime Minisister who says that the USA is not a state of all its citizens and announces that black people, Hispanics and Jews are coming in droves to the polls and that America is the nation state of the White Christians alone and that blacks and Jews have “equal rights” but the country belongs to White Christians.
            The Israeli situation depends not on any sizeable Israeli Jewish shift towards the better angels of their nature based on argument and persuasion and a latent well of good will, conscience and idealism. It depends on pressure. On increasing the cost.

            Reply to Comment
        • David Gaito

          Do you know the truth no so don’t talk bullshit

          Reply to Comment
    3. Martin Dee

      Gantz has taken on the mantle of Yitzhak Rabin. Strategic dove, tactical hawk. I see nothing wrong with that.

      Netanyahu’s tactics are strategic hawk and tactical buffoon. G-d, we deserve better than this buffoon.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Strategic dove, tactical hawk”

        What’s that? Pound the shit out of them until they “make peace”? Sure, that’ll work. And brag about how many Palestinians I killed in the meantime to show Israeli Jews how ruff n tuff I am cuz I know they’ll eat it up? Benny Gantz, killer leftist? Leftist killer? The hawk yearning to release his inner dove? But not just yet, let me kill a few more before I get there? Cuz I have to impress people and I have to have all of Jerusalem and all the other things Likud wants too, no different, but I’m some kinda “leftist” because I am salt of the earth Ashkenazi and have blue eyes and a pretty face and I’m tall too!?
        You’re welcome to your delusions but in Petersen’s Field Guide to Israeli Political Birds this ain’t no dove. “Strategically” or otherwise.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      “Because his Ashkenazi identity still enchants large parts of the Israeli public.”

      This really speaks to Americans who like to view the Ashkenazi-Mizrachi issue in Israel as a parallel to the White-Black race issues in the US. Unfortunately the parallel doesn’t work. For starters, the tension between the two groups in Israel is mostly a thing of the past. What was true in the 50’s and 60’s isn’t true in 2019, and hasn’t been for years (outside of Haredi circles, at least). Rather than point at supposed Ashkenazi bigotry in Israel, one would do better to try and understand how and why Israel managed to overcome this problem in 40 or 50 years- and why the US hasn’t managed to do so in 150 years.

      In this particular case the “blue eyed” Ashkenazi story doesn’t sit well, since one of Gantz’s main partners in this political party is a Mizrahi former IDF chief of staff.

      So it goes.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I think you draw a false comparison by oversimplifying. Maybe ignorant Americans simplistically think “Ashkenazi = White, Mizrachi = Black” but both Tom Mehager and the Israeli public draw on a deeper, more complex set of concepts involving history, patriotism, old hopes, old leadership images, nostalgia, etc., as well as ingrained latent racism and notions of superiority. That reach to the non-Ashkenazi Likud and the national religious voters just as powerfully. And Gabi Ashkenazi plays second fiddle here. “My blue eyed boy” is deeper than race. It’s more complicated and therefore more powerful.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          I see two types of people who bring up the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide. One lives in the Haredi world. The other lives in the anti-Israel world. The ‘issue’ was put into the article for a reason-it speaks to the mostly American Audience.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Even if we were to accept your premise, we are then left with a kind of “why do you hate America?” challenge. As if those who address the race problem in America are “anti-American.” And someone like Orly Noy or Tom Mehager is “anti-Israel” for bringing up a an obvious social and class dynamic regarding Benny Gantz. And this in a country (Israel) that constantly tries to whitewash, for American Jewish and non-Jewish consumption, its problems and its true nature? A country that has a (intrinsically whitewashing) term for it, “hasbara,” and has a dedicated industry of disinformation supplying it.
            Really, the “anti-Israel” epithet is Fox News level propaganda and the “Haredi world” and “anti-Israel world” terms are propaganda. Not that different from an American saying that every time he hears someone bring up America’s problems they are either in “the Black world” or the “liberal world.”

            Reply to Comment
    5. Mikesailor

      The real problem is that Gantz is the same as Netanyahu, who is the same as Lapid, who is akin to Feiglin, Lieberman et al. They are all racists infected with Zionism and, as such, there are really non-existent differences between them. The funniest thing is that they all compete to show how little they regard “Arabs” whether within Israel proper or within the territories. None of them are worth the powder to blow them up.

      Reply to Comment
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