Following an initial campaign phase in which he remained mostly silent, Hosen L’Yisrael leader Benny Gantz is now stepping up his campaign messaging as he seeks to play up his security credentials and establish himself as the top rival to Prime Minister Netanyahu. On Sunday, his party released a series of videos which highlight Gantz’s experience as IDF Chief of Staff and his toughness in leading 2014’s “Operation Protective Edge” conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
In one video, we see footage of Gaza as a bombed-out wasteland, while text on the screen recounts the number of “targets destroyed,” “terrorists killed” and the “3.5 years of quiet” along the Gaza border in the wake of the campaign. Another video shows Gantz’s role in the targeted assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari in 2012. A third video serves as a notable counterpoint, with voiceover from Gantz stating that there is “no shame in striving for peace” and that Israelis do not want to send their children to fight for the next 25 or 50 years — though they “probably might.” The video emphasizes the need to “try” and “strive” for peace. Gantz concludes: “I’m not prepared to have a generation without hope that things could be different here.”
The videos feature the Hosen L’Yisrael slogan, “Israel Before Everything,” along with a new tagline: “Only the Strong Win.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu appears increasingly worried that Israel’s attorney general may indict him on corruption charges before April’s election. On Monday, the prime minister’s legal team met with Attorney General Mendelblit and urged him not to make an indictment decision before the election, arguing that it would be hasty and prejudicial. Meanwhile, Netanyahu continues to portray the investigations and the media’s coverage of them as a massive left-wing conspiracy designed to drive him from power.
Over the weekend, the Likud party erected several large billboards with the faces of prominent Israeli journalists, along with the message, “They won’t decide. You will decide.” On Saturday, Netanyahu also released a video which states that “For three years, the left and the media have been chasing after Mendelblit to indict at any cost.” It shows clips of protesters outside the attorney general’s home.
On the day of Israel’s elections in 2015, Prime Minister Netanyahu — fearing polls which showed his Likud party trailing — sought to mobilize turnout among right-wing voters by appealing to racist, anti-Arab fears. In an election-day video, Netanyahu warned that Israel-Arab voters were headed to the polls “in droves,” treating the phenomenon of Arab voting as a threat to Israel.
The controversial phrase “in droves” has become well-known in Israeli politics — and now the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties. will seek to turn the phrase to their own advantage. Joint List Leader Ayman Odeh told Reuters this week that his party will incorporate the phrase into its own campaign slogan as it seeks to drive turnout. “Arabs are not going to forget Netanyahu’s incitement. Netanyahu benefited from the slogan the first time around. Now it is our turn to benefit,” Odeh said.
MK Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset and one of the top leaders in Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said this week that following a victory in the upcoming elections, Likud would make the annexation of Israel’s West Bank settlements “our great task.” Edelstein observed that “a couple of years ago we were considered hallucinatory” for claiming that annexation would soon be possible. “Now it is mainstream in Israel. We will implement it.”
While the Netanyahu government has consistently pursued policies of creeping annexation in the West Bank and made clear that they have no intention of ever accepting the creation of a Palestinian state, this new statement is still dramatic and alarming. It indicates that the idea of annexing the settlements and destroying the prospects for a two-state solution has become truly mainstream on the Israeli right and in Israel’s largest political party.