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Israel at a crossroads:

Is the unity following Oct. 7 coming to an end?

“The divide is no longer right wing vs. left wing, but rather pro-Netanyahu vs. anti-Netanyahu.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv. Nov. 22, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv. Nov. 22, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Raphael Poch

Following the Hamas onslaught of Oct. 7, the people of Israel, both on the civilian front and in the political echelon, experienced a sense of unity that hadn’t been seen for many years. However, with recent calls for elections as soon as the war is over, as well as renewed anti-government protests taking place every week, the question looms whether the unity of purpose that was achieved as a result of the conflict will come to an early end.

The calls for early elections, even though the current government has a solid majority in the Knesset, have surprisingly not been limited to the left. According to a recent article on Ynet, anonymous sources in the Likud hierarchy have also stated that there will be elections after the war is over.

The Likud leadership officially denied the report, saying that no one was willing to go on record with those statements because everyone supports Benjamin Netanyahu as the party leader. However, the question arises: Are there indeed voices on the right, or within the Likud party itself, calling for an election or the resignation of the prime minister?

Professor Chuck Freilich, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies and a former Israeli deputy national security adviser, said that early elections will indeed come about, not because of pressure from within the Knesset but rather from demands from the public.

Freilich told JNS: “We’re already beginning to see a larger number of people coming out to the renewed weekly demonstrations on Saturday nights. I think that if the war continues to wind down and the north doesn’t erupt [i.e. the Hezbollahj front], then people will come out in larger and larger numbers until the pillars of government collapse, the country shuts down and Bibi [Netanyahu] is forced out.”

Freilich places blame for the security failures that led to the Oct. 7 disaster squarely on the shoulders of the current government.

“People are in a state of shock over what happened, and even people on the right were dismayed, and they want a sensible right-wing leader,” he said.

The savviest politician in Israel

Martin Sherman, the founder and CEO of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, looks at the situation a bit differently.

“The reason for the calls for elections is because Netanyahu won the last elections. People have tried to depose Netanyahu any way they could, via the poll[ing stations], via demonstrations, via legal actions, anything that would work, but they have not been successful.”

Sherman noted that while many of Netanyahu’s opponents are currently very excited about the public opinion surveys, “As the war drags on, he [Netanyahu] seems to be re-gaining popularity in certain polls, and that scares them. There was a big drop-off in support for the coalition because of the war, but the coalition is back up to 59 seats [out of 120 in the Knesset] in the most recent polls.”

When asked if there is someone who could replace Netanyahu at this critical juncture, Freilich said that “responsible leaders who could succeed Netanyahu would emerge,” while Sherman stated that Netanyahu is the savviest politician in Israel.

“I’m not an apologist for Netanyahu, but I think that with all his faults, he is head and shoulders above all the other options,” said Sherman. “His opponents have tried to depose him by every means possible, and he has left them all in the dust. The left in Israel is shattered and in a state of ruin. Look at Meretz, look at the Labor Party, which is a shadow of its former power and glory.”

Sherman decried the “devaluation of ideology in the country” and blamed it for the current political situation. “Most people don’t vote for a policy, but rather they vote for a person,” he said.

He pointed out that there has been a political shift in the country in recent years and no longer is the divide right wing vs. left wing, but rather pro-Netanyahu vs. anti-Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu, [74], is aging and has been under an incredible amount of stress. If he heads a faction in the next election, the results will be along the same lines as what we’ve had in the recent past. On one side, the pro-Netanyahu camp, on the other the anti-Netanyahu camp,” Sherman said.

While a return to regular protests may be around the corner once the war ends and calls for elections continue to be heard in the media, the consensus seems to be that the current government has little to no motivation to dissolve itself and call an early vote.

With official committees of inquiry set to be formed in the future to shed light on the government’s actions, inactions and possible culpability for what happened on Oct. 7, it remains to be seen just how long the current government will continue to stand fast, and exactly how it will be called to reckoning, if at all.

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