Gantz takes the fight to the right

Benny Gantz, head of the Israel Resilience Party. Photo: Gili Yaari/NurPhoto/Sipa USA.

BENJAMIN Netanyahu’s challenger Benny Gantz shook up the election campaign this week, by taking him to task using the arguments of the right-wing.

Netanyahu is fighting the election on a proudly right-wing agenda and has lambasted Gantz as a “leftist”. But Gantz is determined to put a spanner in the works and present himself as a candidate who defies right–left pigeonholing.

Two weeks after he said he will attempt to make peace with the Palestinians – a classic left-wing position – he has launched campaign videos that throw classic right-wing criticisms at Netanyahu.

He has also recruited two former Netanyahu associates, both of them respected on the right, to stand on the candidate list of his Israel Resilience party. Zvi Hauser was his choice as Cabinet Secretary from 2009 to 2013.

Media pundit Yoaz Hendel used to be Netanyahu’s communications director – and heads the think tank Institute for Zionist Strategies.

His candidacy on Gantz’s list is a particular blow to Likud, as the IZS was the driving force behind the Nation State Law, championed by the right and hailed by Netanyahu as one of his greatest achievements.

In the new videos, Israel Resilience decries Netanyahu for allowing Qatar to make monthly payments of millions of dollars to Hamas. This money has kept the Hamas regime afloat, in the face of financial hardships.

Gantz’s party argues in the video that in return for delivering the money Israel got rockets and arson attacks. “We will not abandon southern residents,” it promises at the end of the video, inferring that Netanyahu has failed them.

Israel Resilience tried to further undermine the right-wing credentials of Netanyahu and his Likud party by reminding the public that he did not initially oppose the 2005 Gaza evacuation, and in three important votes backed the withdrawal.

It showed footage of young Jews being dragged by security forces during the Gaza evacuation. “Netanyahu evacuated Jews by force,” it said, repeating the claim in relation to other important Likud figures.

The videos end with the party slogan, “There’s no more right or left – just Israel above everything.”

Gantz was not alone in trying to challenge Netanyahu’s image as hero of the right this week. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the New Right party, did likewise.

He claimed at a conference on Tuesday that Netanyahu works hard to appeal to right-leaning religious-Zionists before elections, but abandons them afterwards, trying to build coalition alliances with the left instead.

“Religious Zionism is beloved for him before the elections, but after the vote, its representatives are the last to hear from him,” said Bennett.

As Gantz, Bennett and Netanyahu tried to impress the right this week, the Labour party signalled that it will be fighting the election on traditional left-wing ideas. Party leader Avi Gabbay said on Tuesday that Israel was right to disengage from Gaza.

With this comment he waded into controversial territory, as many Israelis believe that in retrospect the disengagement brought terror by giving Hamas a base.

Labour also looks set to campaign on firmly left-wing policies on social issues. The party just held its primaries and the two top spots, after Gabbay, went to the leaders of the 2011 social protests, Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuly.

Shaffir told Labour activists to gear up for an ideological election campaign. “The right is planning a tsunami against democracy,” she said. “We can’t justify looking on from the sidelines.”