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Israeli opposition leader Gantz calls for early elections amid domestic turmoil

Israeli opposition leader and wartime Cabinet member Benny Gantz on Wednesday called for new elections this fall as domestic tensions roil Israel amid the war against Palestinian militant group Hamas.

In a video address, Gantz said Israel is facing “tremendous challenges” but that it must strive for unity, including with allies in the U.S., while criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not prioritizing the families of the roughly 100 hostages still held alive in Gaza by Hamas.

“They deserve to know that Israeli society is not against them but behind them,” Gantz said, pledging to stand by the families of the hostages.

Gantz said Israel must agree to hold an election in September, presenting the first major call to action that will challenge the power of Netanyahu’s government.

The opposition leader said he talked to political leaders in Israel about a possible date for the new elections and added that he expected to continue dialogue with Netanyahu on the issue.

Gantz said elections will “increase trust and unity” in Israel and “give us a huge international backing that is needed.”

Israel is expected to not hold elections until 2026, but under a parliamentary system a snap election can be called to form a new government.

Gantz’s calls come just days after protests erupted in Israel, marking the largest demonstrations since the war began.

Israeli protesters expressed anger that the government has not reached a cease-fire deal with Hamas to free the hostages still left in Gaza.

The protests were a major show of force against the government of Netanyahu, who has worked to free the hostages but also remains committed to the elusive goal of destroying Hamas after fighters invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking 250 hostages.

Netanyahu’s hard-line policies on Gaza have also angered the Biden administration, which is trying to manage growing Democratic outrage in the U.S. after the war has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for new elections in Israel last month, criticizing Netanyahu for not doing enough to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. President Biden called Schumer’s floor remarks pushing for new elections a “good speech.”

Schumer also criticized Netanyahu for trying to maintain his political survival. The Israeli prime minister is expected to pay at the ballot box for the intelligence and security failures of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

In Israel, the remaining hostages in Gaza remain the biggest concern for the moment.

A cease-fire and hostage release deal has been out of reach since the last temporary one in November. Israel remains committed to destroying Hamas, while the Palestinian militant group is pushing for an end to the war.

Gantz said that Israel will “not ignore the disaster of the seventh of October and what preceded it” as he called for new elections.

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