exit announcement

Gantz leaves government, accusing Netanyahu of playing wartime politics 

The war cabinet minister’s resignation destabilizes the coalition, but doesn’t force an early election

Amir Levy/Getty Images

Benny Gantz, a member of the country's wartime cabinet, departs after announcing his resignation during a press conference on June 9, 2024 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Minister Benny Gantz resigned from the Israeli war cabinet on Sunday, taking his party out of the coalition while accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not putting the country’s best interests first.

“Months after the October disaster, the situation in the country and the rooms in which decisions are made changed,” Gantz said. “Strategic, fateful decisions are met with hesitations and deferrals out of political considerations … Netanyahu is preventing us from progressing to true victory.”

Gantz called on Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, to quit as well, and said that an election should be held “after which a government can be established, with the trust of the people, that can meet our challenges.”

While the war cabinet minister’s departure from the government would not necessitate an election, as Netanyahu still has a 64-seat coalition, the move is likely to be destabilizing. A Knesset vote on a bill regarding Haredi conscription to the IDF, which the Supreme Court ordered but is opposed by Netanyahu’s coalition partners Shas and UTJ, is expected to test the strength of the government on Monday. 

Gallant plans to vote against the government-sponsored bill, a step that would normally trigger an automatic resignation by a minister, but wouldn’t necessarily in this case because of a technicality — though it could lead to his dismissal by the prime minister. 

Before Gantz’s press conference had ended, Netanyahu posted on X that “Israel is still in an existential war on a number of fronts. Benny, this is not the time to abandon the campaign. This is the time to unite forces … My door will remain open to any Zionist party that is willing to … help bring victory over our enemies and ensure security for our citizens.” 

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich accused Gantz of “fulfilling the wishes” of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and Public Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded to be added to the war cabinet.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid posted that Gantz’s “decision to leave the failed government was correct. The time has come to replace this extremist and irresponsible government with a sane government.” 

In his remarks, Gantz pushed back against those who accused him of propping up Netanyahu. 

“There are those who say we helped Netanyahu when we entered the government. He is not the issue; rather, it’s the state of Israel … I can promise one thing: I would die for your children. We will always stand up when the country needs us, at any political cost and without fear of what people might say,” Gantz said.

The minister also apologized to the hostages’ families: “We did a lot —- we failed in bringing results … The responsibility is mine, as well. I stand behind the [cease-fire proposal] we accepted in the war cabinet, whose principles President Biden presented and demand that the prime minister have the courage needed to stand behind it.” 

Along with Gantz, war cabinet observer Minister Gadi Eisenkot and Minister Chili Tropper resigned.

Last month, Gantz set a June 8 deadline for Netanyahu to present detailed plans for the release of the hostages, post-war Gaza and other areas, threatening that his party would leave the coalition if Netanyahu did not put forward the plans. 

The war cabinet called off its planned meeting for Thursday evening, at which time the National Union held its own faction meeting. On Friday, Gantz’s office announced that he would be giving a press conference on Saturday night — apparently to quit the coalition.

Yet the operation to rescue the four Israeli hostages from Gaza had been in the works for weeks with Gantz’s knowledge, and when Netanyahu and Gallant gave it the green light on Thursday, Gantz, Eisenkot, Ben-Gvir and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer knew about it.

With media in Israel and beyond reporting that Gantz’s resignation was imminent, he announced a press conference that in reality he did not plan to hold, in an effort to give an impression of “business as usual,” the source said.

By Saturday afternoon, the press conference was canceled “in light of the events,” the statement read.

The Biden administration and hostage families tried last week to discourage Gantz from resigning.

Israel Democracy Institute President Yohanan Plesner noted that “the participation of Gantz and National Unity in the coalition gave a broad swath of Israelis higher confidence that critical wartime decisions were being made with moderate voices in the room and broad national representation, rather than narrow political interests.” 

While there is still a broad Israeli consensus in favor of defeating Hamas and freeing the hostages, Plesner posited that Gantz’s exit will likely focus Israeli politics on the split between Netanyahu and Israel’s foreign allies on whether a post-war plan for Gaza is needed at this time, as well as on the Haredi enlistment issue.

“The issue of Haredi enlistment is particularly contentious,” Plesner said, “with IDI surveys indicating that many within Netanyahu’s political base oppose the continued blanket exemption from service now granted to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. Netanyahu, on the other hand, appears to remain committed to his Haredi coalition partners and is intent on” continuing those exemptions.

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