Apr 3, 2024 - World

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz calls for early elections

Benny Gantz

Gantz votes during Israel's last elections in November 2022. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images

Benny Gantz, a prominent member of Israel's war cabinet, called on Wednesday for early elections to be held in September — before the one-year anniversary of the Hamas terrorist attacks that shook the country.

Why it matters: This is the first time since Oct. 7 that Gantz, a retired army general who currently leads in the polls by a wide margin, has called for early elections.

Driving the news: Gantz, the leader of the moderate National Unity party, joined the emergency government in the fourth day of Israel's war in Gaza.

State of play: Gantz's decision to join the emergency government last year boosted his popularity.

  • In recent months, polls indicated his party would win more than 35 seats in Israeli Knesset — three times the number of seats it won in the last election.
  • The polls showed Gantz beating Netanyahu in favorability, with close to 50% of Israelis saying he was the right person to be the next prime minister. Roughly 35% said the same about Netanyahu.

What they're saying: "In order to maintain our unity, the public needs to know that we are going to ask for its trust again soon and that we don't disregard the Oct. 7 tragedy. This is why we need to agree on a date for an early election during September," Gantz said at a press conference.

  • He added that he spoke about the matter earlier Wednesday with Netanyahu and several leaders of other coalition parties.
  • Gantz stressed that he would leave the emergency government if he reaches the conclusion that Netanyahu is sabotaging efforts to reach a hostage deal.

The other side: Netanyahu rejected Gantz's call for early elections and said the current government will continue to rule until all war objectives are met.

  • "Benny Gantz must stop playing petty politics. Elections now will lead to paralysis and division and will damage the operation in Rafah and the efforts to get a hostage deal," Netanyahu said.

Reality check: Gantz and his party have very little leverage over Netanyahu. Even if they leave the government, the coalition would survive with 64 seats — a majority in the Knesset.

The big picture: Gantz received support Wednesday from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who delivered a stunning speech last month calling for new elections in Israel.

  • "When a leading member of Israel's war cabinet calls for early elections and over 70% of the Israeli population agrees according to a major poll, you know it's the right thing to do," Schumer tweeted.
  • Gantz had previously criticized Schumer over his anti-Netanyahu speech and said the Senate leader shouldn't intervene in domestic Israeli politics.
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