בני גנץ
Blue & White head Benny Gantz making a public statement on his political future on Tuesday night
Photo: Elad Malka
Blue & White head Benny Gantz making a public statement on his political future on Tuesday night

Once Netanyahu's greatest rival, Gantz is down if not out

Ex-IDF chief has vowed to press on and end prime minister's 11-year reign, but poll shows his centrist Blue & White party sliding to near irrelevance after he alienated voters, enraged allies by striking power-sharing deal with PM

Reuters |
Published: 12.30.20 , 15:34
Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief who came close to ending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's long dominance of Israeli politics, is finding his star is fading fast as a new rival from the right emerges as a challenge in an election set for March.
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  • With his centrist Blue & White party on the verge of demise, Gantz has said he will press on and bring Netanyahu's more than decade-old reign to an end.
    בני גנץבני גנץ
    Blue & White head Benny Gantz making a public statement on his political future on Tuesday night
    (Photo: Elad Malka)
    But with anger mounting against Netanyahu's handling of the coronavirus crisis from across the political spectrum, the main threat to the prime minister appears to be Gideon Sa'ar, a defector from his right-wing Likud party.
    Sa'ar has accused Netanyahu, who is under criminal indictment for corruption, of putting his own interest ahead of the nation's. Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has dismissed the allegation.
    A survey by N12 News predicted Likud would be down to 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament, with Netanyahu short of a backing majority, Blue and White shrinking to five and Sa'ar's New Hope party winning 19 in the March 23 election.
    Up until May, Gantz was the great hope of Israel's center-left, desperate to oust Netanyahu in three elections held since 2019 in which Blue and White ran neck-in-neck with Likud, winning around 35 seats each.
    מליאת הכנסתמליאת הכנסת
    Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset
    (Photo: Oren Ben Hakoon)
    But in the past week a string of political allies have bolted Blue & White, which polls see teetering on the edge of the threshold required in order to enter parliament.

    'Political suicide'

    At a news conference on Tuesday, Gantz said he would remain at the party helm and bring Netanyahu down.
    "Many have mentioned the term 'political suicide' to me but I didn't care then and I don't care now," he said. "I see only the State of Israel."
    Alone at the podium and angrily rebuffing critics hours after he was abandoned by a senior party comrade, Gantz's somber statement was a stark contrast to the buzz he generated in the previous campaigns.
    A towering and laid-back former general, 61-year-old Gantz was a political novice whose main election pledge was to form a government without Netanyahu.
    Benny Gantz during his term as IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz during his term as IDF chief of staff
    Benny Gantz during his term as IDF chief of staff
    (Photo: Archive)
    Likud and Blue & White emerged as the two biggest parties at the ballots. But neither Gantz nor Netanyahu secured enough votes to form a government.
    As the coronavirus crisis mounted, Gantz backtracked on his election promise and joined an emergency unity government headed by Netanyahu, taking the position of defense minister.
    Alienating voters and enraging allies, Gantz struck a power-sharing deal that would have seen him taking the premiership from Netanyahu in November 2021 - an accord many political analysts were skeptical would hold.
    It was a costly move. Gantz's party split with about half its members quitting as his own popularity plummeted in opinion polls. The government, formed in May, collapsed last week, triggering another snap election.

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