Conventional wisdom holds that Benny Gantz will be just as unsuccessful as Benjamin Netanyahu in setting up a new government. That means that President Reuven Rivlin giving Gantz the mandate to form a new coalition on Wednesday night was nothing more than ceremony. A ritual. A mostly symbolic gesture with negligible influence on reality.
Nonetheless, the live, prime time broadcast of the ceremony in which Rivlin anointed Gantz as prime-minister-in-waiting jolted an Israeli public that had come to believe that Netanyahu would entrench himself in the prime minister’s office for all eternity. Instead, there was Rivlin handing over the mandate to someone completely different, Gantz, who has remained largely unknown to the public despite leading Kahol Lavan in two successive election campaigns.
It was like a scene from Bizarro World. Nothing was familiar. The face was different, as were the demeanor, the tone and the message. Gantz read out his overlong speech from teleprompters, but his excitement and his anxiety broke through. He was conciliatory to everyone but Netanyahu, who, he warned, would be ejected from politics if he took Israel to a third election campaign running. And his dynamics with Rivlin were a study in contrast compared to Netanyahu: Instead of hiding his hostility, Rivlin had to squash his obvious satisfaction.
Netanyahu’s die-hard fans believe that it ain’t over till its over. It is a matter of faith for them that Netanyahu “the magician” still has a Hail Mary up his sleeve that will save the day and keep him in office. After two straight electoral failures, however, their devoutness is being sorely tested.
The fifty percent or so of Israelis who voted against Netanyahu know that the ceremony may turn out to be meaningless, but it was magical for them just the same. 37 days after the fact, the scenes broadcast from the President’s House in Jerusalem were the first actual physical manifestation of Netanyahu’s defeat in the September 17 elections. Even if their celebration turns out to be short-lived, center-left voters feasted on the sweet taste of victory they thought they’d savor no more.