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[Israel Politics 101] Who is Benny Gantz and his new Israel Resilience Party

Dubbed as “an officer and a gentleman,” (JPost, 2/1/19) former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has given centrist favorite Yair Lapid a run for his money. The tall, imposing figure who commanded the Israel Defense Forces from 2011 to 2015 is, to many, a symbol of patriotic duty, unwavering authority and moral integrity. He is a trusted brand who engenders safety and assurance, perhaps the most needed commodities for Israeli citizens who constantly face the threat of annihilation by neighboring Arab countries.

Gen Benny Gantz
Wiki Commons

In fact, it was Prime Minister Netanyahu who, in Gantz’s February 14, 2011, swearing in ceremony as new IDF chief of staff said to the general, “Benny, today you are taking on the command of the IDF. You have all the qualities to succeed in this important mission – a combination of quiet determination, calm and pleasant ways that will ensure continuity and stability.” (Ibid)

Those words still describe how many Israelis view Benny Gantz, post-military, as he now redefines himself as aspiring political leader and future prime minister. With a fervent love for his country, Gantz’s humble beginnings serve to reflect that trust placed upon him by Israel’s citizens.  Born in an immigrant collective agricultural community (moshav), to holocaust survivor parents who were among the moshav’s founders, he grew up like many other children who worked the fields while also dedicating time to faith and public service. Today, he is married and the father of four.

In December 2018, he established a new political party named “Hosen L’Yisrael” (Israel Resilience Party) and announced his desire to be Israel’s next prime minister.

Since that time, Gantz has deliberately and, perhaps, wisely been silent concerning his personal political positions so as not to define himself in ways which would ultimately squeeze him into a box and, thereby, limit his popularity. Consequently Israeli audiences could see him through the lens of his many prior accomplishments and judge him according to the values which he has held and lived up to. 

This, too, seems to be a winning strategy for the general who is being viewed as a refreshing departure from the usual nasty, mud-slinging politicians who do their utmost to bloody their rivals with defaming character assassinations. So his personal promise not to attack anyone is working. To him, the harm which would come to Israeli society would not be worth the price of being divisive.

This attractive portrait of Gantz has helped him move up in the polls with a projected 15 – 24 knesset seats being won. Yet, those numbers are not enough to unseat Netanyahu and another Likud coalition.

But for now, very little is known about the man’s platform other than his shared desire for lasting peace, his hope to carve out an agreement with Palestinians that would have Israel retain major settlement blocks and give full security control to sites such as the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. 

He has also stated his desire to improve healthcare, bring in a lower cost of living and put an end to corruption in government. While these are the usual in political fare, Israelis seem to gravitate to the more trusted personality who seeks to deliver such promises, and, in that regard, Benny Gantz may definitely have the edge since so many Israeli parents have, for years, believed he could be entrusted with their most precious possessions – their sons and daughters who served under his command. 

Yet, at some point, Gantz may have no choice but to expand upon his political views, causing him to be more closely scrutinized and critiqued, but if he manages to squeak through with minimal controversy, shrouded in the mystique which has, up until now, protected him, no one should sell him short, because this dark horse just might pull off an upset which would startle everyone – especially those who insist that there is no viable alternative to Bibi Netanyahu.

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Chava Stein, the granddaughter of Jewish European immigrants to the U.S., made Aliyah to Israel in 1993. Married to an Israeli, they live in the center of the country.

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