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OpinionIsrael at War

‘Kaplan Force’ and the ‘Swords of Iron’ war

Hamas put a stop to the judicial reform controversy that filled the streets in Israel for most of the year and channeled that into unity. At least, for now.

Crowds of Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, on May 25, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Crowds of Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, on May 25, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Yisrael Medad
Yisrael Medad is a researcher, analyst and opinion commentator on political, cultural and media issues.

There exists a deeply embedded suspicion in right-wing circles that the actions and rhetoric of the so-called “Kaplan Force” groups contributed to the Hamas invasion of Oct. 7 in Israel’s southwest region along the Gaza border. The essence of the theory is that Hamas—observing the literal tearing apart of Israeli society—became convinced that a strike would succeed since the core factor of protests was the weakening of the Israel Defense Forces through calls to refuse reserve duty in essential military units, such as air-force pilots and intelligence drone operators.

Is that suspicion in any way justified or at the least conceivable? Was Hamas emboldened, if not encouraged, to launch its pogrom that it had been planning for perhaps years?

In order to understand the vicious and venomous nature observed in their sloganeering, it is necessary to grasp that the campaign began some six years ago and, despite the noise and contamination of the public discourse, has been largely unsuccessful. That itself increases the bitterness of those invested in its (lack of) success.

In December 2017, a “March of Shame” on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard took place to oppose a legislative initiative modeled on the so-called “French Law” that would postpone any indictments then being proposed against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was branded as “corrupt.” A “Black Flags” protest came later, in March 2020, when Shikma Bressler and her brothers led a convoy to the Knesset, and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak on March 19 called on social media to wave black flags from balconies and windows so that “the defendant will go home.” After that was the “Balfour Street Siege” in the summer of 2020, when the Israeli public soon came to recognize Amir Haskel of the “individual protest,” Ishay Hadas of the “Crime Minister” group and Or-ly Barlev, a self-styled independent journalist.

From the outset, their social-status profile was Israeli WASP—that is, White, Ashkenazi, Secular and Post-Military. As such, they also included the legacy of Mapai’s shallow socialism. Zeev Sternhell in his book The Founding Myths of Israel, claimed the Labor Party leaders had already abandoned Socialist principles by 1920, only using them as “mobilizing myths,” while actually advocating capitalist agriculture. Many came from kibbutzim and more were longtime IDF officers who were, thanks to the generous pension system of the army and the employment credit they had accrued (pilots, military-industry managers, commerce administrators, politicians), well-connected, and mostly economically, independent. They were bolstered by the new high-tech class of those in their late 20s to mid-30s for whom “work hours” was a very flexible and unrestrained concept.

They were eventually confronted after managing to bring about a little more than two years of election gridlock between 2020 and 2022, as was proven in the November 2022 elections for the 25th Knesset. The Likud-led, right-of-center, nationalist and haredi coalition all but eliminated the left-wing parties, while the center groups remained in disarray. Unpowered, as I have pointed out, these interconnected persons and groups face a crisis of identity and power in that their normative regime hegemony has been removed. The Zionist left has opposed the Zionist right, and blocks any effective influence it could have on the state’s political, social and cultural makeup. They face a real threat.

To counter this situation, I detailed how a hard-core group of former Labor politicians and Balfour Street graduates met in December 2022 to plan what two years earlier Barak called for—a campaign to play out on the theme of democracy. The proposed judicial reform program was an unexpected gift and allowed them to accuse the government of fomenting a “regime change.” In parallel, it boosted a revival of the worse forms of religious intolerance, with scenes at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square this past Yom Kippur recalling the activities of the Soviet Yevsektsiya Jewish anti-clerical units.

In late July of this year, in high hyperbole, they announced, “We will fight the government of destruction to the bitter end.” They combined that with an “Evening of Resistance.” Their activities also attracted other groups—revolutionary Marxists, anarchists and secular ideologues who contributed their own subversive slogans and memes.

The last pre-war scenes were of those secularists, encouraged by the Kaplan Force energy, petitioning Tel Aviv municipality to deny dancing on Simchat Torah with the scrolls in public.

As it turned out, Hamas put a stop to all that controversy. Well, almost.

The Kaplan Force core has not halted even as they have transitioned, in part, to a highly publicized help-and-care campaign for those displaced from their homes, as well as for soldiers. You can find them on Threads or a Facebook community, or via the accounts of Shikma Bressler and Moshe Radman, among others, at Twitter/X. They have merch, too.

Most recently, they have gathered to demand elections. Despite the fact that the country is at war. Despite the fact that a significant section of the opposition joined the government. Despite the fact that the polls indicate that the Labor Party has disappeared and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party has lost considerable support. Still, the protesters plough on ahead in multiple arenas to sow discord, fractiousness and bitter discourse.

It is too early to know exactly what direct effect all this protesting had on leaders associated with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Documents, if any, need to be captured, and senior members of Hamas—those left alive—will need to be interrogated.

What is apparent, however, is that the public at large is demanding that during this war there be unity. We have witnessed bereaved parents and spouses on television demanding a halt to all the discord. For they know that an army’s success on the battlefield is predicated on its preparations, its capabilities, its functioning, and above all, its spirit.

Israel’s spirit need not be dampened or depressed just now. Let us fight together as one people. Democracy is not dead in Israel, and the time for elections will come. And besides, those of Kaplan Force may not be happy with their results.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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