After a dramatic U-turn, Blue & White party chairman, MK Benny Gantz was elected Knesset speaker Thursday evening, March 26, as part of an emerging unity deal, leading to the breakup of his centrist alliance to enter a far-right government with his longtime foe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Receiving the full support of the right-wing bloc, Gantz was elected to the speaker’s post with the backing of 74 MKs. Eighteen voted against, the Joint List (15 MKs) and Meretz (three lawmakers); and the rest, including Yesh Atid, a faction within Blue and White, did not participate.
According to the reported deal taking shape, Gantz is set to partner with Netanyahu in a far-right Zionist “unity government”, serving initially as foreign or defense minister and then taking over from Netanyahu as prime minister in September 2021. Gantz is expected to resign the speakership after a unity government is formed, to be replaced by a Likud MK.
Joint Arab List lawmakers, among them faction leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) knew nothing about the move to nominate Gantz to the post of Knesset speaker. On Thursday, in the afternoon hours, most of the Joint Arab List’s MKs were still on social media, writing about their support for Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen as next Speaker, based on the understandings between the Joint List and Blue & White representatives MKs Ofer Shelah and Avi Nissenkorn. Just a little while later, however, the rumors that had spread were verified and the shock and dismay in the faction’s offices quickly turned to outrage and condemnation of Gantz.
MK Odeh said, “We won’t lend a hand to a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Blue & White will decide if they want to win together or surrender alone.”
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) said, “Likud B, which throughout the election campaign spoke of a ‘Jewish majority’ and fell in line with unilateral annexation of the Palestinian occupied territories, joined Likud A. We will lead the opposition to the government of continued incitement, racism, and occupation.” Hadash MK Ofer Cassif Joint List), also denounced the move, saying that “Benny Gantz chose to steal the mandates and pave the way for an ethno-fascist government headed by the serial defendant. I am warning Gantz and anyone thinking about joining him – this path will lead to disaster, not just for us but also for you. For all of society.”
Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) was no less adamant in her denunciation of Gantz. “The Joint List had its say and voted against the nomination of Benny Gantz as Knesset Speaker. We will not support this far-right unity government.”
A leading member of Hadash lambasted Gantz, saying that he “betrayed us time after time. We went against our principles and the red lines we set for ourselves, to give him the support to remove Netanyahu and the right-wing government, and in return, we got a finger in the eye and a knife in the back.”