Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party have inked an agreement to run as a joint slate in the upcoming election, set for November 1, they announced on Sunday evening.
Decrying extremist elements, Gantz said at a press briefing that the two parties will set out to establish a “responsible, realistic, secure, and liberal” government. Such a coalition, he said, will “say no to racism, no to extremism, and yes to unity for all parts of the country and all types of citizens… ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, secular; Muslims, Christians, Druse and Jews.”
“Israel deserves better,” Gantz said, adding that voters “shouldn’t have to pick from the extremes,” but instead deserve a sane, central option.
That was likely to reference to parties like the predominantly Arab Joint List or the far-right Religious Zionism, led by Bezalel Smotrich, and including Itamar Ben Gvir, who heads the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit faction within the party. Ben Gvir entered the Knesset in the March 2021 elections after merging Otzma Yehudit with Religious Zionism, in a deal brokered by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to shore up right-wing votes.
For too long, said Gantz, Netanyahu has dragged the Likud party to positions that undermine national unity and harm Israel’s democratic principles.
“We are laying the cornerstone for the next government,” said Gantz. He called on other groups “who agree with our values” to join their union. Its goal, he said, is to unify “all those who support a Jewish, democratic, safe Israel.”
Gantz said he believed the joint slate can appeal to “many people on the statesmanlike right” looking for a political home.
“From the moment I entered politics, I have repeatedly said that we are at an illogical and unprecedented situation,” said Gantz of the ongoing political deadlock, calling it the “biggest democratic and political crisis in [Israel’s] history.”
Israel’s November 1 elections will be the country’s fifth national vote since 2019.
An unsourced report Sunday by Channel 12 news said Gantz and Sa’ar had decided that their party will not sit in a government with Netanyahu, but while Gantz denounced the Likud leader, neither he nor Sa’ar expressly ruled him out as a potential partner in the next coalition.
In his speech Sunday, Grantz praised the outgoing multi-party coalition headed until last month by Naftali Bennett, but said a few members on its fringes pulled it off the road. Bennett’s unlikely alliance of right, center, left and Islamist parties lasted about a year before coming apart, hobbled at the end by the vocal departures of key lawmakers from Bennett’s Yamina party.
Speaking after Gantz, Sa’ar said Israel “needs a new hope and a way out of this crisis.” He said that he and Gantz have devoted their lives to the State of Israel and agreed to join forces to create a “wide, patriotic, center-right” electoral slate.
Sa’ar also said that Gantz — who will take the merged party’s top slot — is the ideal candidate to lead the next government.
Blue and White currently holds 8 seats in the 120-member Knesset; New Hope has 6.
In recent polls, which are not necessarily reliable, Blue and White has been slated to receive around 8-9 seats and New Hope 4-5.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the news, saying he believed in the good intentions of Gantz and Sa’ar.
“I wish good luck to Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar,” Lapid tweeted. “I am convinced that your intentions are good. I look forward to continuing to work with you on behalf of the citizens of Israel.”
Lapid’s Yesh Atid ran together with Gantz’s Blue and White in the April 2019, September 2019, and March 2020 elections. Gantz then decided to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu, causing the parties to split up. They have remained separate since.
For their joint slate, Gantz and Sa’ar are reportedly hoping to draw former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who is also being heavily courted by Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and is seen as a major catch for either party due to his high public profile and general popularity.
Eisenkot would take the third slot if he were to choose to run with a combined Blue and White-New Hope faction, according to reports in Hebrew media.
Eisenkot, who was military chief of staff from 2015 to 2019, is believed to have the ability to bring in voters from both the left and the right. The retired general was one of the most coveted figures during the March 2021 election cycle, with his name linked in reports to a number of parties, but he eventually decided not to run.
The remaining places at the top of the joint slate would be held by Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White), Culture Minister Chili Tropper (Blue and White), Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), Knesset Economics Committee head Michael Biton (Blue and White) and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope), according to reports.
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and MK Zvi Hauser, whose Derech Eretz party joined New Hope after splitting off from a Blue and White alliance, are not likely to have slots on the list, although it was unclear which side had made that reported decision.
Hendel is reported to be in talks with new Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked to potentially join forces, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
In a Facebook post earlier Sunday, Hendel said he has no regrets over his time in office and believes he stood by his principles. “I will work hard to ensure that votes for the statesman-like right-wing will have a respectable representation in the next Knesset,” he wrote. “I promise to update you soon.”