Former Israeli defense minister and No. 3 on the Blue and White political list, Moshe Ya'alon, addresses a Media Line-sponsored event in Tel Aviv on August 19, 2019. (David Rawlings)

Moshe Ya’alon: Blue and White will Not Join Forces with Netanyahu-led Likud (with VIDEO)

The former Israeli defense minister talks diplomacy and defense ahead of September’s national elections

At the third session of The Media Line-moderated TLV Sunset Series, former Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon encouraged the audience to vote for his Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) list in the September 17 elections.

Ya’alon, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, entered politics in 2008 as a member of the Likud. In January 2019, he founded the self-described “hawkish” Telem party which is running as part of Blue and White, headed by Benny Gantz.

During the event, Ya’alon explained that he resigned in 2016 as defense minister under current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who heads the Likud party, mainly due to “corruption.” The Israeli premier faces possible indictment in three separate police cases.

“I believe in ethics in politics,” Ya’alon said. “Israeli politics in many circles have become corrupt.”

Ya’alon emphasized that partnering with the incumbent prime minister was a nonstarter. “We are not going to join any coalition led by Netanyahu. We are ready to cooperate with the Likud party, but not with him [as prime minister],” he said.

Ya’alon highlighted the differences between the two parties regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are for political separation between us and [the Palestinians], but we don’t delude ourselves that we will achieve a final [peace] settlement now and we don’t want to have a bi-national state.”

While Blue and White does not believe peace can be achieved at the present time, it rejects any annexation of West Bank territory – a policy that Netanyahu promoted in the lead-up to the previous elections – because it would lead, according to Ya’alon, to Israel becoming an “apartheid state.”

Regarding the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Ya’alon said that if he entered the government after next month’s election Israel would assume a stronger approach to the ongoing violence that began last year with incendiary kites and balloons being dispatched from the coastal enclave. He said that as a result of the 2014 Gaza war (when he was defense minister), Israel was able to build “deterrence” against attacks from the Palestinian territory that had since been lost. Blue and White’s “carrot and stick” policy of stringently penalizing attacks while also providing humanitarian assistance to Gazans would “rehabilitate our deterrence.”

Ya’alon also addressed the banning of entry to Israel of US Democratic Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar because they support the boycott of the Jewish state. Israel initially granted permission for both women to visit, but changed course after President Donald Trump expressed opposition to their trip.

Israel ultimately reversed its stance on Tlaib based on humanitarian grounds, so that she could visit her grandmother in the West Bank; this, on condition she would not to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement while in the area. Tlaib first accepted and then rejected the offer.

Ya’alon said that the Jewish state’s decisions must be made based on a “cost/benefit analysis,” and that Israel lost more than it gained in this affair.

“We were perceived as partisan, going with the Republicans [and] ignoring the Democrats,” he said. “I believe it was a mistake not to allow them to come, and another mistake [to] intervene in US politics.”

Turning to the economy, Ya’alon touted his party’s plan to make housing more affordable.

In doing so, he was trying to speak to voters like Ella Persson, a Swedish immigrant living in Tel Aviv who voted for Blue and White in April and plans to vote for it this time as well.

“The most important issues to me are [low] salaries and [the high] cost of living,” Persson said.

Ya’alon personalized the issue, telling the audience, “I have three kids; without our help as parents, they can’t afford an apartment.”

This is something Stephanie Cohen, an immigrant from Long Island, New York who lives in Herzliya, can relate to. “My salary is less than my rent, so my parents need to help me financially even though I have been here a year and I work,” she told The Media Line.

Cohen did not vote in the previous election because she did not feel sufficiently well-enough informed, and is currently undecided for whom to cast a ballot.

As the influence of the religious establishment over the government and every-day life grows, many Israelis are concerned about the separation between Synagogue and State. Blue and White’s platform contains policies that the religious parties vehemently oppose, including providing public transportation on the Sabbath and civil unions for members of the LGBT community.

“A combination [of] religion and politics is disastrous,” Ya’alon said.

However, he would not rule out forming a coalition with religious parties, much to the chagrin of Tel Avivian Vidhura Malkowsky, who moved to Israel from Frankfurt, Germany, in 2013. She voted Blue and White in the last election, and is leaning toward doing so again. Her main issue, besides security, is limiting the ultra-Orthodox influence over society.

“I don’t want the country to be too religious,” Malkowsky told The Media Line, adding that she is disappointed by Blue and White’s willingness to team up with religious parties. Nevertheless, she does not see any other party that promotes her ideals reaching the 3.25 percent electoral threshold needed to enter parliament.

“I will probably up voting for Blue and White, because I don’t see any other options and I don’t want to vote for Likud,” Malkowsky said. “I want to be able to trust Kahol Lavan, but there have been lots of internal changes [and instability].”

Addressing concerns about fissures within Blue and White after it emerged that Gantz had hired a security firm to sniff out “spies” who leaked tapes of him speaking before the election in April, Ya’alon noted that his alliance was a “wide tent” movement whose members could reach consensus on “90%” of issues. Ya’alon, in turn, blamed Netanyahu for sowing discord, slamming the the Israel Hayom newspaper, which is owned by Netanyahu supporter and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

“Netanyahu is interested in dividing us,” Ya’alon stressed. “We can find it in his newspaper, another undemocratic phenomenon. We call it ‘Bibiton [a combination of the prime minister’s nickname, Bibi, and iton, the Hebrew word for newspaper].’ It’s like Pravda in [the former Soviet Union], trying to generate differences and fake news regarding what’s going on.”

He added that Blue and White might have limited internal disputes, “but we are not the Likud party where you have to sign loyalty to the Supreme Leader like in North Korea,” an allusion to a pledge recently required of all candidates from the prime minister’s party to back him to be premier after the elections.

Ya’alon further distinguished his party from the Likud in terms of how it defines members of ideological camps. Last week at the Sunset series, Likud parliamentarian Sharren Haskel said the defining issue between left-wing and right-wing Israelis had become their “view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what they’re willing to do.”

In a rebuke to the prime minister, who has called Blue and White supporters “Leftists,” Ya’alon had a different assessment: “After Oslo, those who supported [the peace accords] were considered leftists and those who rejected [them were] considered rightists.”

“Nowadays, those who support Netanyahu are rightists, those who criticize him are considered leftists,” he concluded.

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies Program)

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