Israel’s tumultuous parliamentary system is known for its rough and tumble ways. The two main parties, conservative Likud and leftist Labor, are constantly jockeying for bridges politically near and far to smaller parties for seats in the Israeli Knesset.
The latest small party is the Israeli Resilience Party led by former top Israeli Defense Force General Benny Gantz. As a nation that has been constantly under attack, a good number of military men go into politics in Israel as they are seen to have the requisite leadership skills to skipper the Jewish state.
Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is up for reelection in April. He served in the Israeli Special Forces and his brother Yonatan was the only IDF soldier killed in action as he led the 1976 raid on Entebbe to free Israeli hostages. The PM’s English is flawlessly American because be grew up in the Philadelphia burbs. His father was a noted Israeli academic who worked there and in other parts of the U.S.
So where does Gantz go to criticize Bibi on Wednesday? His accent, implying he doesn’t sound Israeli enough. Gantz accused him of being busy in the States: “to improve your English and practice it at luxurious cocktail parties” while Gantz “lay in muddy foxholes with my soldiers on frozen winter nights.”
It’s a stretch to condemn the PM, given his military record and also that of his family, for shirking his martial duty. And spending time here and speaking English? So did former PM Golda Meir, she was born here. High-level diplomat Abba Eban? Spoke with an accent from British South Africa. A member of Resilience even went on the radio and mocked Netanyahu’s accent. But the mocker himself worked as an au pair in the U.S. when he was young. I bet he spoke English when he did it. Even Gantz himself has a grad degree from an American school and was a military attache to the U.S. for four years. No cocktail parties happening on that duty. Oh, nooooo. Also, given we are Israel’s prime ally, wouldn’t you want a leader who can speak to your geopolitical main squeeze in a familiar fashion?
Bibi does have a bribery scandal hanging over himself and his wife. That could hurt. But his accent? Oh bloody please.
Israel was founded over seventy years ago by Eastern European socialists who got smart real quick. As they got closer to the West, they spent more time here. As Jews from all over the world moved there, many from English-speaking countries, the sound of Israel became more and more polyglot.
To use that fact as a campaign attack card is pathetic and targeting the wrong group for exploitation, as many election-deciding voters in Israel speak English or have ties to the Anglosphere, mostly the U.S.
So Gantz is going to have to find a better battleplan to topple the PM. At this point with that message, it may be for the general a bridge too far.