Mon, 22 Apr 2019

Israeli Mystery Man Who Could Challenge Netanyahu Speaks, Briefly

Voice of America
18 Jan 2019, 08:05 GMT+10

JERUSALEM

A former Israeli military chief seen as a potential challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has generated buzz without even campaigning, but on Thursday he took a step towards entering the fray.

Benny Gantz opened his social media campaign with a 17-second video clip that pledged 'something different' for Israel, but which shed no light on his political beliefs -- the source of intense speculation ahead of April 9 elections.

He launched himself into politics in December with opinion polls suggesting his new party, Israel Resilience, could win a signficant number of seats. But he has yet to make any detailed policy statement or reveal who its other members will be.

The widely respected former military chief of staff is thought to hold centrist political beliefs, but he has kept his cards close to the vest.

His wry video statement Thursday on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram played to his so-far taciturn image, in marked contrast to the wordy speeches of political rivals.

It began with him introducing his election slogan, 'Israel Before Everything.'

'Join me and we'll set out on a new road because we need something different and we'll do something different,' he said.

He then concluded with a smile: 'I think I spoke too much.'

His first public comments since registering his party came on Monday, when he addressed Israeli Druze leaders outside his home.

He reassured them that he would work to amend a contentious law defining Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Israeli Druze, who unlike Israeli Muslim or Christian Arabs are subject to the same compulsory military service as Jews, have been at the forefront of protest against the law, which also makes Hebrew the official language and downgrades the status of Arabic.

His statement Monday prompted the Israeli right, including Netanyahu's Likud Netanyahu, to brand him a leftist.

Gantz's campaign put out a statement in response saying: 'They shot our Druze brothers in the back. We will heal them.'

Center-right alliance?

Gantz, 59, was military chief of staff from 2011-15, during two wars in the Gaza Strip.

According to official party registration documents, Israel Resilience aims at 'strengthening the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel'.

Opinion polls so far show Netanyahu winning the April elections, but the long-serving premier is facing potential corruption charges that could shake up the campaign.

Polls published Wednesday evening by state-owned radio and TV broadcaster Kan and by the private Hadashot news company showed that Israel Resilience could win 13 seats in the 120-member parliament, with Likud scoring 31 or 32 seats.

The two polls put Gantz's party in either second or third place behind Likud.

The Kan poll said Gantz was favoured as a potential premier by 31 percent of respondents, second to Netanyahu, who scored 42 percent.

Some political commentators have suggested that Gantz could join another former armed forces chief, Moshe Yaalon, in a centre-right alliance.

Yaalon served as Netanyahu's defence minister from 2013 to 2016 but has since become a critic of the premier. He unveiled his own party, Telem, in December.

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