Profile: Benny Gantz, political newcomer challenging Netanyahu in Israel's tight elections

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-07 03:09:36|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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JERUSALEM, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Benny Gantz, ex-chief of the Israeli forces, burst into politics about four months ago and has since quickly emerged as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's toughest challenger in the looming elections.

As a political new arrival, 59-year-old Gantz had no prior political experience when he established his Israel Resilience Party in December of 2018 and announced his candidacy for the April 9 general elections.

In February, his newly-established party formed an alliance with Yesh Atid, or "There is Future" in Hebrew, a centrist party led by Yair Lapid, Israeli former finance minister.

The alliance, called Blue and White, also includes two other former military chiefs of staff.

Gantz was enlisted in the army in 1977 and joined the Paratroopers Brigade after completing a tough selection process. Two years later, he completed the Officer Candidate School and became a company commander in the Paratroopers Brigade.

He served as a commander in the 1982 war in Lebanon and was the last commander of the Israeli forces in southern Lebanon before Israel withdrew its forces in May 2000.

He holds academic degrees in history, political science, and national resources management from two universities in Israel and the National Defense University in the United States.

In 2017, he was appointed as a director of Elron Electronic Industries, a holding company focusing on technology and a subsidiary of IDB, one of Israel's largest corporations.

His military background appeals to many Israelis and is a valuable asset as security issues play a key role in elections campaigns in Israel.

He uses "unifying" rhetoric calling for healing rifts in the deeply divided Israeli society. His campaign also speaks against the corruption of Netanyahu's government and emphasizes Gantz' clean records.

Netanyahu is now facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three separate cases, pending a hearing expected after the elections

A recent poll published by Channel 12 TV news shows Gantz's Blue and White is expected to win some 30 seats, becoming the largest party in the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) while Netanyahu's Likud party lags behind with some 26 seats.

Other polls suggest a 2-to-3-seat advantage for Gantz's party, or a draw.

However, even if Blue and White gains more votes than the Likud, Gantz is not certain to form the next government unless he forms a coalition with other parties. A governing coalition needs at least 61 seats.

His ideology and policy ideas have remained vague. Blue and White's platform calls for "disengagement" from the Palestinians but stops short of supporting a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

When Gantz stepped down as chief of staff in 2015 after serving a full term of four years, Netanyahu praised him as "an officer and a gentleman. A fighter and a human being."

Now, Netanyahu's Likud launched a fierce campaign against the front-runner, attempting to portray Gantz as weak and mentally unstable.

His mother, Malka, was a Hungarian-born and a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp. He was born in Kfar Ahim, a cooperative agricultural community in southern Israel.

"In many ways, my life has begun before I was born. It began in the moment my mother Malka walked out of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp," he said at the Munich Security Conference in February.

"The Jewish people and the Jewish state will never again put their fate in the hands of others. We will protect ourselves by ourselves and guarantee the future of our people," he concluded.