‘We Will Not Join Him’: Gantz Parries Claims He Courted Likud, But Bennett’s Bloc Still on the Rocks
© AP Photo / Sebastian ScheinerIsraeli politician Benny Gantz gestures as he speaks during a conference in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 7, 2021
© AP Photo / Sebastian Scheiner
Seats continue to cycle in and out of the ruling political alliance in Israel, a smattering of left, center, and right-wing parties that few expected would last a year.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who leads the centrist Blue and White bloc, sought to dispel rumors that he was in talks with Likud for his party to join the opposition.
Blue and White has eight seats in the Knesset, meaning the party’s defection would be a death blow to the government. Bennett’s majority is already razor-thin, even after Meretz’s MK Ghaida Zoabi returned to the alliance after quitting in protest following attacks on the Palestinian community last week.
In leaked footage of a Zoom call with supporters, Gantz confirmed that the right-wing opposition party had reached out to him in an effort to woo him away from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, but gave them a “bump to the nose.”
According to the Times of Israel, Gantz said that Likud head and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu “has contributed a great deal to the State of Israel in the past, but in recent years he has damaged stateliness [in the country] while endangering rule of law and democracy. We will not join him.”
Israel’s prime minister for a decade before Bennett took office last year, Netanyahu fell from grace amid political jockeying with other factions - including Gantz’s Blue and White and Bennett’s Yamina - and a series of corruption charges that include bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. That drama is still playing out in a Jerusalem courtroom.
It wouldn’t be the first time Netanyahu has looked to Gantz to try and sabotage the coalition government: when Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid announced that he had formed a government in early June of last year, Netanyahu reportedly offered Gantz the prime ministership for three years if he would join Bibi’s coalition. As it happens, Lapid won Bennett over by making a similar promise of getting to lead the government for two years, which is why Bennett is PM and not him.
However, even if Gantz won’t desert Bennett, Blue and White MK Michael Biton just might. The former strategic affairs minister said on Wednesday he would no longer vote with the coalition because of his objections to proposed reforms in public transportation and agriculture. He accused Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer of “hurting the weak” with plans to raise prices amid rising inflation.
However, Biton also said he would refuse to join a vote of no confidence in Bennett’s government if Netanyahu initiated one. Gantz told his supporters on Friday that talks were underway between Biton and Forer to heal the rift.