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April 1, 2020 7:41 am

Gantz Was Right to Embrace Netanyahu

avatar by Ari Harow

Opinion

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz at the memorial ceremony for the late Israeli President Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem on Sept. 19, 2019. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

After a four year hiatus, I returned to the Prime Minister’s Office as Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff in early 2014. While much had changed, much remained the same. Many of the same faces in the office, many of the same ministers, and many of the same Members of Knesset. One significant change was in our dealings with the Ministry of Defense. When I left my post in 2010, Ehud Barak had been Minister of Defense and Gabi Ashkenazi was the IDF Chief of Staff. Four years later, Bogie Ya’alon was the minister and Benny Gantz had filled Ashkenazi’s shoes.

While I had known Bogie quiet well for many years, Gantz was an unknown to me. My initial interaction with him upon my return occurred at the security cabinet meeting that first week. The towering general quietly made his way to his seat. His large physical presence was a stark contrast to his quiet, almost shy, presence around the large conference table. As the discussion began, Benny sat silently waiting his turn to present to this group of ministers and security leaders. When Netanyahu called on the IDF Chief of Staff, he quickly stood and jumped right into his presentation. No showmanship or games; sincere and professional. Once finished, he immediately sat back down and resumed listening intently to the opinions and thoughts of the other participants.

I never became friends with Benny Gantz, but that meeting, and the many dozens of meetings, cabinets, and consultations that we sat in together over the next year and a half gave me much perspective on the man. There were times when he impressed, times when he underwhelmed, times when I agreed with him, and other times when I did not. One characteristic that was abundantly clear throughout was his deep caring for our soldiers, the IDF, and his profound love for the State of Israel.

When Benny Gantz jumped into the political arena, I was somewhat surprised. His introverted demeanor and businesslike attitude worked in the military but did not fit the prototypical image of a prime ministerial candidate. Although he did not strike me as the person to unseat Netanyahu, the anyone-but-Bibi camp needed a new face, and he was it.

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With Gantz as the opponent, there remained extreme confidence in the right-wing camp, myself included, that once again the Likud would establish the next government despite the legal woes of the prime minister. While mathematically the election results were overwhelmingly tilted right, Avigdor Lieberman’s defection changed the equation and altered the course of history.

Deep animosity towards Netanyahu drove the Blue and White quartet, with Lieberman’s backing, to a parliamentary stalemate. While the political standoff was just beginning, and would drag Israel through an unprecedented three elections in the span of one year, something positive was happening. Poll after poll, survey after survey, showed that the majority of voters, and the vast majority of Jewish voters, wanted a national unity government. While the political divide was great, the ideological gap was much less daunting.

While the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu camps continued to tussle, the public was less interested in the politics and more concerned with real life issues. Our southern border was heating up once again, and hundreds of thousands of residents were living under rocket fire. Our northern border was flaring with Iranian hostilities, which were becoming ever more prevalent. Our health care system was floundering, and our education system was in need of repair.

Our political leaders refused to heed the public’s call, and stubbornly led us to a second and then a third election. Hoping for a decisive outcome, we trudged to the ballot box again and again, in search of a different ending. The results did not sway decisively, and compromise from both sides was a necessity to extricate the country from this cycle of political insanity. The numbers were very clear; no government could be established without the Likud and Netanyahu at the helm, and no government could be formed without compromise from the anyone-but-Bibi camp.

Enter the coronavirus. Israel, together with the rest of the world, was cast into a vortex of uncertainty the likes of which we have never seen or experienced. The world has changed before our eyes and with it our healthcare, welfare, economy, and individual liberties. Fear and anxiety have struck deeply, and every Israeli citizen regardless of political affiliation has yearned for leadership and guidance. The potential loss of life, and damage to quality of life, is at the forefront of our thoughts and we expect the same from all of our elected officials.

The coronavirus crises differs from the wars and emergencies of our past; this silent enemy will not storm our borders or blow up our buses. Nonetheless, it has already wreaked havoc on each and every family, threatens a tremendous loss of life, and may shatter our healthcare system and devastate our economy.

Israel has always been a country and a people that know how to come together in the face of tragedy and crises. Begin and Ben-Gurion, Peres and Shamir, Netanyahu and Barak. Our people, and our leaders, have always understood that to be victorious over the enemy outside, we need unity on the inside. Unity is the highest of virtues; a value that we strive for in mundane times and desperately crave in trying times.

We on the right may not agree with Gantz on issues of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, overhauling the judicial system, or greater privatization of the economy, but we can agree that his steps toward unity are of great consequence and a source of admiration. All issues of disagreement can be shelved at the moment, to be deliberated at some point in the future.

Withstanding tremendous pressure from within his party, and contrary to his former co-pilots, Gantz did what leaders do and led. Leadership is not a title, but rather taking action. While we on the right did not vote for Benny Gantz, we can recognize and appreciate his act of nobility. Gantz did what was right for Israel at this crucial juncture and what the people of Israel want and need, and for that I say thank you.

Ari Harow is the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A version of this article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.

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