Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz broke his long silence with the campaign debut of his Israel Resilience Party at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Tuesday evening .
Gantz, who entered the hall to cheers and chants of “the next prime minister” and “revolution,” told the audience that “aside from my family, nothing is dearer to me than the State of Israel. I love Israel, I am proud of it and committed to it. For me, Israel comes before everything. Citizens of Israel here or at home, I reiterate: I am committed to you alone.
“But I am here tonight because I fear for Israel. The nation is strong, the country is amazing, but an ill wind is blowing. The conflict between left and right is tearing us apart; the clash between religious and secular is dividing us. The tension between Jews and non-Jews is threatening us… The political arena is poisoned. In my view, the current leadership is obsessed with itself, not with you or us.
“Trust me, I am proud of my country but lately more and more people from the left and the right are experiencing a deep embarrassment in light of how the government operates; a strong government unites and does not divide and conquer.”
Gantz accused the Netanyahu government of encouraging incitement and divisiveness. “Instead of serving the people it patronizes the population and is bored by them. It does not see the individual, the high cost of living and the youth who cannot afford housing.”
“No Israeli leader is king; the state is us all. I stand here today, four years after my tenure as chief of staff, and ask for your trust so that I can lead the State of Israel. On the 9th of April I will establish a patriotic, strong, responsible government.”
Gantz mentioned his 38 years of military service where he said he made hard and brave decisions and led soldiers across enemy lines for the sake of national security. “In the difficult and violent Middle East that surrounds us the weak receive no mercy and only the strong win.”
The retired general called out Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Chief Qassem Suleimani, Hamas military chief Yahya Sinwar and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah saying he will thwart their schemes against the State of Israel wherever necessary.
He declared that Israel has no intention of threatening Iranian sovereignty but will not tolerate threats. He also said he would allow humanitarian aid into Gaza but not “blackmail funds” to murderous groups. Gantz also stressed the importance of deeds over words advocating for less press conferences and a more discreet response to security developments.
The event was held in the largest hall at the fairgrounds, apparently to give the impression that the party was worthy of taking the leadership reins of the state. Large flat screens were placed outside to allow those who did not register in advance participate.
Gantz pledged that he will lead a government that will unite the people, absent of attacks on the police chief, the chief of staff or the attorney general. “There will be no incitement against the institutes of justice, culture and media.”
Gantz made an effort to focus on the positive, rejecting feelings of bitterness, indifference and hopelessness. He invoked the name of legendary Likud leader and former prime minister Menachem Begin who signed a peace agreement with Egypt and Yitzhak Rabin who made peace with Jordan. He added: “Benjamin Netanyahu, also an Israeli patriot, delivered the Bar Ilan speech and signed the Hebron Accords and the Wye Agreement with the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat.”
When the crown began chanting against Netanyahu, Gantz intervened and called for the audience to remain respectful and positive.
Gantz reiterated his commitment to a strong and democratic Israel. “We will strengthen the settlement blocs and never abandon the Golan Heights. The Jordan River will remain the eastern border of Israel and we will not allow the millions of Palestinians living on the other side of the fence to threaten our security and our identity as a Jewish state. United Jerusalem will be built and thrive and forever serve as the capital of the Jewish people and the capital of Israel.”
Regarding the corruption allegations facing the prime minister, Gantz said: “Our government will have zero tolerance for any kind of corruption.”
He thanked Netanyahu for his ten years of service and said that under his leadership, the government will fight for education and against inequality and the high cost of living in Israel, pledging to build thousands of new apartments. He also stated that the plight of the public health services mandated immediate attention and called for the building of more hospitals in the periphery as well as more physician placements.
Gantz also pledged his commitment to return home the Israelis being held in Hamas captivity in Gaza.
On the matter of religion and state, Gantz said that he will advance civil marriages, a solution to the pluralist factions at the Western Wall and public transportation on Shabbat for cities that choose. He also expressed support for gender equality and LGBT and disabled rights.
At the conclusion of his speech, Gantz presented his new partner former defense minister and chief of staff Moshe (Bugi) Ya’alon: “A man of principles, he was my commander in the past and now we are partners.”
Earlier Tuesday, Ya’alon announced that his Telem Party is joining forces with Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party. The announcement came shortly before Gantz's speech.
The joint party will run under the Israel Resilience name and Ya’alon will be the number 2 man on the list after Gantz. Ya’alon is also expected to receive two reserve spots, numbers 5 and 8, on the list for representatives of his choosing. Analysts familiar with the negotiations said that the current agreement can be revised if other parties join the list later on. Potential partners include Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
The makeup of Ya’alon’s list has yet to be determined but among the names being discussed are those of journalist Yoaz Hendel and former government secretary Zvi Hauser.
Ya’alon was interviewed at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Tuesday evening and seemed to rule out sitting in a future Netanyahu government. Ya’alon reiterated that parties should join forces ahead of the February 21 deadline in order to present the electorate with an alternative to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Asked where he places his party on the right-left spectrum, Ya’alon responded: “Anyone who criticizes Netanyahu is a leftist; even President Rivlin and Benny Begin… Surely I too will be called a leftist; it isn’t a derogatory term as far as I’m concerned.”
Ya’alon was earlier asked about accusations from some on the right accusing Gantz of being a failed military leader, especially for his performance during Operation Protective Edge, he responded that it’s all “populist political spin.” He accused the current security cabinet members of causing harm and giving in to Hamas by allowing an influx of Qatari cash into the Gaza Strip. “They will teach me about security?! They won’t lecture Gantz on security,” he said.