Benny Gantz, Contender for the Israeli Premiership, Harks Back to an Older Political Style

February 6, 2019 | Neil Rogachevsky
About the author: Neil Rogachevsky teaches at the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

After announcing his decision to enter politics as the head of a new party, the former IDF chief-of-staff Benny Gantz avoided the press and made few public statements. He is nonetheless poised to be the major challenger to Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections. Contrasting the taciturn Gantz to the eloquent Netanyahu, Neil Rogachevsky sees the former as a throwback to an older sort of Israeli politician:

Gantz seems to represent the return of an Israeli character type never totally absent but long repressed under the Netanyahu regime: the silent general. This figure, often bred on the kibbutz and politically more at home with the Labor party, thinks talk is cheap and detests the deal-making and prideful clucking of civilian politicians. He values simplicity, even austerity, in personal style. He is the kind of person who naturally cringes when he hears details about the Netanyahu family’s luxurious life in the seaside town of Caesarea. (Gantz alluded to this in his big campaign speech.) It was with such kibbutznik-warriors in mind that the late French historian François Furet memorably dubbed Israel “a new Sparta, agrarian and military.”

If there is any Israeli political figure Gantz recalls, it is not a figure from the right but the late Yitzḥak Rabin, himself a war hero and chief-of-staff who then went into politics. Though now remembered for his impassioned but rather convoluted pleas for peace before his assassination in 1995, Rabin actually detested political rhetoric and never bothered to articulate a policy agenda. Much like Gantz, Rabin did not hesitate to threaten enemies with brutality. Benjamin Netanyahu, by contrast, prefers to argue against Iran through reasoned speeches on television and addresses in international forums.

Silent generals have done much to protect Israel since 1948. Yet, given recent history, there are good reasons to be skeptical about their approach to politics. Rabin’s inability or unwillingness to articulate, in concrete terms, his approach to the peace process with the Palestinians led to much bewilderment, leaving Israelis unprepared for the diplomatic and military challenges that ensued. The late Ariel Sharon, another “strong, silent” general/prime minister, refused to tell even his closest advisers his reasoning behind removing all Israeli settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005. . . .

Other than releasing a television ad bragging about prior damage he inflicted on Hamas, Gantz has so far been extremely short on specifics about his views of the Palestinian question, Iran, and other challenges. To his credit, he has said concretely that he aims to improve the overburdened hospital system. But can such vagueness lead to victory? And will it lead to successful government?

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