Kafe Knesset: Gantz's first interview + the book he's reading | Yair Netanyahu breaks gag order | Not Your Toy
Welcome to Kafe Knesset: Your daily guide on everything driving the conversation in Israeli politics. I’m Neri Zilber and I look forward to briefing you from now through the upcoming election and hopefully beyond. Subscribe to Kafe Knesset here, follow me @NeriZilber and reply to this newsletter with all tips and feedback. Thanks!
Gantz interviewed for first time – and keeps clarifying: Retired IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, whose party is running second in the polls to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, finally gave an interview to the press this past Friday. The novice politician, handled with kid gloves by his political strategists, had remained almost wholly quiet since entering the race save for a high-profile launch event two weeks ago. The interview to the Yediot Aharonot daily was Gantz’s chance to explain his vision for the country. The resulting interview raised more questions than answers, with officials from Gantz’s party, Hosen Le’Israel (“Resilience for Israel”), spending the weekend clarifying his remarks.
On three issues in particular Gantz seemed to soften, or muddle, his previously declared public positions: (1) Taking unilateral steps in the West Bank to separate from the Palestinians (he said in his launch speech he would); (2) Fixing the controversial “nation-state” basic law passed last year (his first ever remarks as a politician indicated he would); (3) Sitting in a Netanyahu-led government after the April election, even if the PM is indicted on corruption charges (Gantz hasn’t said if a preliminary indictment decision by the Attorney General, expected soon, would be a red-line for him).
One prominent military correspondent who has covered Gantz for decades told Kafe Knesset he didn’t like all this maneuvering – “it’s too vague and doesn’t suit him.” Yet he also added that Gantz would win “not because of his opinions or positions but because he can coalesce the anti-Bibi forces” behind him. Gantz and his team are likely counting on it. Asked in his interview what book he was currently reading, Gantz said The Prince by Machiavelli. Indeed.
Gantz-Lapid merger talks: Despite his high poll numbers Gantz is still unlikely to beat Netanyahu – for this the ex-general needs allies. The strongest option would be a merger between Gantz’s party and Yesh Atid, another centrist party led by former finance minister Yair Lapid. The policy differences between the two are miniscule; the chasms in ego, though, are a different matter. The deal will rise or fall on who of the two will be the candidate for prime minister (or in one scenario a rotating premiership). Officials from both parties confirmed over the weekend that talks are ongoing – they have until February 20, the deadline for registering parties, to decide. Running alone neither party can probably overtake the Likud. Running together, most polls have them in the lead.
Stabbing attack in Jerusalem: Last Thursday a 19-year old Israeli girl was stabbed to death in a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Israeli special forces apprehended the perpetrator, a Palestinian man from the West Bank city of Hebron, the following day. The Israel Police and Shin Bet are still unsure whether the crime was “nationalist” in nature (i.e. terrorism) or a sexual attack. This didn’t stop Yair Netanyahu, the premier’s son, from taking to social media to spread lurid details of the case (as yet unconfirmed and under a gag order). Prominent right-wing Netanyahu rivals followed suit, demanding a deduction in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority as called for by a new anti-terror law. Netanyahu said this morning that implementation of the law would begin in a week.
Jack White Is Not Your Toy: American rock-star Jack White got even richer last Thursday when he was added to the list of composers for Israeli pop sensation Netta Barzilai’s hit song “Toy,” winner of last year’s Eurovision song competition. Claims had been made that the chorus in “Toy” borrowed heavily from White’s well-known hit “Seven Nation Army.” Netta hasn’t yet responded – not even with a signature chicken cluck.