Behind Netanyahu’s Deal with the Racist Right—and How the Opposition United Against Him

Avishai-Netanyahu-DealSource: The New Yorker


The late Israeli statesman Abba Eban once said, “History teaches that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.” Late last Wednesday night, the leaders of Israel’s centrist opposition parties, working against a deadline to finalize electoral lists for the April 9th general election, behaved wisely. Benny Gantz, the head of Hosen L’Yisrael, and Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, entered into negotiations to explore how they might unite forces against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. They emerged with a spliced-together party, which they named, in obvious haste, Blue and White, in reference to the Israeli flag, with a list of senior candidates and a rotation agreement for who will serve as Prime Minister, should the party win. Assuming a full four-and-a-half-year term, Gantz—who has been polling a good deal higher than Lapid—would lead the government for the first two-and-a-half years, Lapid for the remaining two.

Gantz, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff running for office for the first time, brings an inarguable charisma to the deal; Lapid, who entered politics before the country’s 2013 election, brings an inarguable talent for grassroots organization. What had been arguable is whether the parties could win more Knesset seats together than they could apart. That question, too, now seems settled: snap polls show Blue and White winning about thirty-five seats, surpassing the Likud, with thirty. That’s at least three seats more than the two parties’ projected combined total had they run separately; the party that wins the most seats is typically awarded the Presidential mandate to try to cobble together a governing coalition. On Thursday evening, Gantz and Lapid presented the outlines of a platform, which at this point seems largely aspirational, calling for, among other things, “security” and “the search for peace,” more emergency-room beds, and enough trains so that soldiers returning to their bases from the cities on Sunday mornings “can find a seat.”

Critically, Blue and White added to its senior ranks another former Army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi (who is known for his sharp intellect and his moderate diplomatic views, and is—in spite of his name—one of the country’s most popular Sephardi leaders) and Avi Nissenkorn, the former head of the Histadrut, a labor federation, whom Gantz lured away from the Labor Party. Even the rotation arrangement doesn’t seem implausible, on its face, though it tends to undermine the idea that everyone should rally behind Gantz because of his superior talents and toughness. The success of the arrangement will depend on close coördination among Gantz, Ashkenazi, and yet another former chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, whom Gantz had already enlisted—a core team of former lieutenant-generals who have shown, during their years with the I.D.F, and in spite of differences in personality, that they can work together. The three are at least cut from the same cloth: all have connections to the hityashvut ha’ovedet, the pioneering Labor Zionist farming collectives; all had parents who were Holocaust survivors. Besides, Gantz is a good team leader—he can manage people who think highly of themselves. (Uzi Arad, Netanyahu’s former national-security adviser, who worked with all three men, told me that Gantz is regarded as “a fighting general with the temper of an Eisenhower rather than a Patton.”) The street, often a click ahead of the pundits, has nicknamed Blue and White the “junta.”

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