Defense Minister Benny Gantz with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky
Defense Minister Benny Gantz with Rabbi Chaim KanievskySpokesperson

In a candid conversation with haredi news outlets, Defense Minister Benny Gantz doubled down on previous assurances he has given that he will not partner with Netanyahu in government again – and suggested an alternative candidate for premier.

“I have no problem with a haredi prime minister,” Gantz said. “But I have no more faith in Netanyahu, after he twice broke his promises to me. The current government is a complex one, but it is still functioning well.”

And Gantz added, “I hope that the haredim will join the government this year. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be part of it. We have even set aside ministries for them, mostly ones currently held by right-wing parties. I hope that they find the courage to make the move.”

Gantz also said that, “I’m not worried about having a haredi prime minister. [Shas party head Aryeh] Deri is a very capable person.”

Questioned on his recent meeting with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the most revered Torah leader in the Lithuanian-haredi world, Gantz said, “I am very glad to have had the merit of meeting with him. My relationship with haredi society is important to me, and I hope that they feel the same way.”

When it was pointed out to him that some of his secular political partners were not happy at seeing pictures of him with Rabbi Kanievsky in the media, Gantz responded, “I’m not subject to anyone’s views, and I don’t believe in invalidating anyone – not religious people and not secular people either. I believe in trying our hardest to get along.”

Gantz added that, “In Israel, we have 1,200,000 haredim. If you want to get an idea of what the country will look like in another 50 years, take a look at Beit Shemesh. That’s what it’s going to be like. We need to make mutual discourse the rule, not the exception. Our enemies don’t distinguish between us, between secular and haredim – they see us all as part of the same problem.”

With respect to the government’s ongoing efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic, Gantz said, “I entered the previous government in order to forestall a fourth round of elections, at a time when no one knew how to deal with this virus. Today, we have an entirely different level of understanding of what it takes to deal with this epidemic – take vaccines, for example. It’s a totally different situation to the one the previous government had to address. And I think that we are currently pursuing the right policies, both in the Coronavirus Cabinet and in the government as a whole.”

Turning back to the question of the “unity government” he formed with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gantz said, “That was a government that was set up in an emergency situation. Netanyahu, however, did not keep his promises to me, and other people who had promised to be guarantors to the agreements failed to come through.”

Gantz was also asked about his intention to close down Galei Tzahal – Army Radio – and he assured his questioner that his position has not changed. “I want to distance soldiers from politics as much as possible,” he said. “I appointed an official to deal with it and she’s going to sort this out.”

On Gaza, Gantz said, “The army has plans drawn up for a reconquest of Gaza [just as it has plans for other eventualities], but that’s not in our best interests right now.”

And on the Kotel Compromise, which involves setting aside a part of the Kotel Plaza for Reform-style worship, Gantz said, “The Western Wall is long enough to make space for all the various streams within Israeli society.”

Gantz was then asked if he would take action to prevent Foreign Minister Yair Lapid from becoming prime minister, according to the terms of the rotation agreement with current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “I hope that the current government lives out its term of office,” he replied, “and that the rotation takes place. As long as Blue & White is accorded its rightful position, that is what will happen.”

Responding to Gantz’s words, a senior official in the United Torah Judaism party told ArutzSheva, “There’s absolutely no chance that the haredim will join a government or cooperate with parties which advance the Kotel Compromise. If the plan goes forward, our Torah leaders will order the haredi community to go out and protest en masse, against this terrible desecration of the holiness of the Kotel – nothing like it has been attempted in all the years of the State’s existence. Even Bennett understands that if he wants to cooperate with the haredim, he cannot touch the Western Wall.”