By David Rubin
Everyone knows about Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Israel’s invincible leader, soon to be the longest-serving prime minister in history — except, apparently, Benny Gantz didn’t get that memo.
Benny is ahead of Netanyahu in the latest polls.
How can this be? Bibi is a powerful international spokesman, a skilled diplomat and an expert economist. If Americans were allowed to vote, Netanyahu would likely win in a landslide.
But in the upcoming April 9 elections, the only votes that count are from Israeli citizens. Israelis see a flipside to the legendary Netanyahu, who some view as indecisive in battle, not resolute enough in meeting the challenge of settlement in the strategic, mountainous heartland of Israel — Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank) — and they are concerned with entrusting him with the sovereignty of Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital since the days of King David more than 3,000 years ago.
Once labeled by an American magazine as “King Bibi” due to his seemingly irreplaceable status, things may be changing for Netanyahu and his Likud party. With the attorney general having announced bribery indictments against him, Netanyahu seems to be somewhat in defensive mode as his nation enters an early election once again.
So there is a new Benjamin in town, or a new Benny, that is, who seems to be taking Israel by storm. Formerly chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Benny Gantz has entered politics for the first time, forming his own Israel Resilience Party and seriously challenging Netanyahu’s predominant right-of-center Likud.
Pundits projecting Netanyahu’s virtually assured victory may be irrationally exuberant, the thinking being that Gantz’s lead is only “temporary.” The fact is that Gantz is now the darling of the media, which has become a formidable foe to Netanyahu in recent weeks. In a country that has always been enamored with generals and always seems to be searching for the latest “messiah” in the form of a new centrist party, Gantz seems to fit the current perceived need.
Voters are flocking in droves to the tall and handsome Gantz, especially from the establishment left-wing Labor party, which seems to be self-destructing more with each passing day.
Unlike the United States, Israel is a parliamentary democracy in which the citizens vote, not for an individual, but for a party, and the leader of the largest party has the challenge of forming a coalition with smaller parties, the goal being to attain a majority of seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Remarkably, until recently, Gantz didn’t need to say a word on policy to achieve his strong standing in the polls. In fact, from his perspective, it was better not to say anything. But in a tiny country like Israel, where most issues are potentially explosive, issues eventually need to be confronted, and as that happens and people see what Gantz truly stands for, the shift in popularity may swing back to Bibi.
In his maiden policy speech, Gantz seemingly inexplicably praised Israel’s now unpopular 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, in which some 10,000 Israelis were forcibly expelled from their homes in a bitter and painful process that nearly tore the fabric of the country apart.
According to Gantz: “It was a legal move that was adopted by the Israeli government and carried out by the IDF and the settlers in a painful but good way. We have to take those lessons and implement them in other places.”
The statement is especially disturbing since it is well-known that in every armed conflict, Hamas intentionally hides its armed forces, its weapons factories and its missile launchers in civilian population centers, daring Israel to attack.
With President Trump’s peace plan still not released, but already being publicly debated, it behooves all Israelis, as well as Americans who care about Israel, to understand that the “land for peace” formula that has been recycled and regurgitated by virtually every American administration in recent years, was proven dead after the Gaza withdrawal, when the Hamas terrorist organization set up its rocket launching pads on the ruins of the once peaceful and thriving Jewish communities.
Netanyahu is a sometimes flawed yet experienced leader, one who recognizes the existential threat from an Iran seeking to attack Israel from both Lebanon and Syria, while achieving nuclear bomb status. Clearly, Netanyahu has the firmness and resolve that Gantz and his potential partners on the left don’t possess.
As Benjamin Netanyahu faces his most difficult challenges, the world should know two things, that Bibi is the better Benjamin and Benny Gantz is not the Messiah.
David Rubin, former mayor of Shiloh, Israel, is the founder and president of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund.