A lot has changed in Israel since Oct. 7, but a lot has also stayed the same.
What has changed is exemplified in the actions of the Kalmanzon brothers, members of the religious community of Otniel in the South Hebron Hills, on Oct. 7.
On Oct. 7, Elhanan Kalmanzon, a reserve major in the Commando Brigade and a Mossad officer, realized almost immediately that Israel was being invaded. He organized the security team in Otniel and messaged his brother Menachem.
“I’m packing up and going south. The nation of Israel needs us. Our brothers need us.”
Menachem joined Elchanan, and with their brother-in-law Itiel Zohar Horovitz, they drove down south, ending up at the gate of Kibbutz Be’eri.
Be’eri was one of Hamas’s primary targets for slaughter. Ninety-seven members of the small farming community were butchered that day. Greeting them at the entry gate were terrified residents.
“My sister is inside.”
“My brother is inside.”
“Please save them.”
The Kalmanzon brothers and Horovitz found an abandoned armored personnel carrier, and entered the kibbutz. For 14 and a half hours they went from house to house, rescuing families through the windows of their safe rooms, filling their vehicle, driving to safety, and returning to the farming community-turned-killing-field, over and over again.
On their final trip into Be’eri, after having saved more than a quarter of the residents, Elhanan was killed as he entered another home.
A delegation of members of Be’eri came to Otniel to pay a condolence call to the Kalmanzon family during their shivah. In the course of their meeting, Menachem praised the heroism and the hardened courage of the residents of Be’eri.
“There were 70-year-old women there. We’d offer them a hand to help them down [from the window].”
Swatting his hand in the air, as if pushing a fly away, Menachem continued, “This 70-year-old woman said, ‘No thank you.’ She’s a tough woman, a woman of labor. We laughed together and, ‘If they told you to go to the cow shed and do the morning milking in half an hour, you’d be off.’”
Be’eri and the surrounding kibbutzim were founded by hardcore Labor Zionists. They believed that the Jewish people would liberate themselves from two thousand years of exile and powerlessness, build their state and secure their freedom into the future through hard work, hard fighting and collective farming. They aspired to build a Jewish socialist state.
Over the years, as they became prosperous, their socialism dissipated. Zionism, it seemed, had finished its job. Socialism was superseded by progressivism, Zionism by post-Zionism.
Like the residents of neighboring kibbutzim, Be’eri’s members believed in coexistence with the Palestinians. They thought the biggest threat to that coexistence was people like the Kalmanzon brothers, who are religious and live in Judea or Samaria. They believed in the founding myth of the so-called peace process with the PLO—that there were “extremists” on both sides. The supposedly “moderate” PLO ruling Fatah faction had its “extremists” in Hamas. The “moderate” Israeli elite, of which the kibbutzim outside Gaza were very much a part, had its “extremist” religious Zionists, otherwise known as “settlers.” To reach peace, the “moderates” on both sides had to defeat their “extremists.”
Oct. 7 shattered that illusion. Hamas didn’t slaughter the people of Be’eri and surrounding communities on its own. It was joined by Fatah terrorists and thousands of “civilians.” These Palestinian “moderates” were full participants in the atrocities committed that day.
On the other hand, the people who arrived at the scene to save them, unbidden, were the Kalmanzon brothers from Otniel who were supposed to be their enemies. Since the ground operation began in Gaza, 45% of the soldiers killed in action have come from the religious Zionist community whose members comprise only 10% of the overall population.
Shift in the ideological landscape
The slaughter of Oct. 7 provoked a radical shift in the ideological landscape in Israel. On the left, the revision was led by the refugees from Be’eri and the other kibbutzim that were subjected to Hamas’s one-day genocide, and saved by men they had seen as their greatest foes.
More and more, the determination and pioneering spirit that the Kalmanzon brothers saw in the faces of the people of Be’eri has returned to the hearts of their communities and ideological partners. They returned to the Zionism they thought they no longer needed. The universalist progressive creeds that convinced them the monsters who invaded their homes were really just like them, have been cast aside. And just as Elchanan told Menachem “our brothers need us” and drove to Be’eri, so the people of Be’eri now realize that religious Zionists are their brothers, not their enemies.
This state of affairs was captured in a survey carried out by the Direct Polls agency and reported last week on Channel 14.
The poll showed that in the aftermath of Oct. 7, 44% of Israelis, including 30% of leftists, said their views have shifted to the right. And whereas the public was split more or less evenly on the question of the desirability of a Palestinian state on Oct. 6, after the massacre of Oct. 7, only 30% of Israelis (including Israeli Arabs) believe it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Ninety percent of Israelis (including Israeli Arabs) do not trust the Palestinians.
On the eve of the massacre, Israeli society was riven by division and internecine hatred more bitter and dangerous than the state had previously experienced in its 75-year history. For 10 months, led by former and serving Supreme Court justices; disgruntled, politically radical retired generals and prime ministers; and the media, the left had waged an insurgency against the legitimacy of the democratically-elected Netanyahu government and its voters.
The Supreme Court
During the 10 months that preceded Oct. 7, the most polarizing issue on the national agenda was the question of the proper role of the Supreme Court in Israel’s democratic system. For the past 30 years, in a series of groundbreaking decisions, activist, progressive and post-Zionist Supreme Court justices led by retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak enacted what Barak referred to as the “judicial revolution.”
The Netanyahu government that entered office in late December 2022 was pledged to reform the judiciary in a manner that would restore the court’s position as a co-equal branch of government. Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented the government’s exceedingly limited program of reform weeks after being sworn in. His speech provoked a ferocious response.
Aharon Barak spoke of civil war and so incited one. Barak’s successor, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, stopped just short of declaring war on the government and its supporters. The furor they stoked quickly penetrated the IDF officer corps and intelligence services as officers in elite units signed letters pledging not to serve under the Netanyahu government.
In the interest of lessening internal division and rancor, the government set aside almost every one of its proposed reforms. It moved forward with only one bill. The bill—an amendment to Basic Law: Judiciary, which sets out the basis for the operation of Israel’s court system— placed a minor limit on the court’s arrogated power to cancel duly promulgated laws.
In the past, Barak himself admitted that the court has no power to cancel Basic Laws, since they are the source of the court’s powers. All the same, Hayut immediately accepted a petition calling for her and her colleagues to cancel the amendment. Marathon hearings were carried out in mid-September, just a month before Hayut and Justice Anat Baron were set to retire at the mandatory age for judges of 70. Under the law, Hayut and Baron are only permitted to sign onto judgments until January 16 and January 12, respectively, three months after their retirements.
Last week, someone at the court leaked one of its draft decisions to political commentator Amit Segal. Segal reported that the 15-member court is split 8-7 in favor of canceling the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary. The two deciding votes are Hayut’s and Baron’s. If the judgment is issued after the three months is up, the amendment will be upheld.
Ironically, in her draft ruling, Hayut argues that the parliamentary vote on the amendment, which was passed by a 64-56 majority in the 120-member Knesset—was too close to be “legitimate,” and therefore, cannot stand.
In the aftermath of Oct. 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed his arch-rival, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and his party into the emergency government and the War Cabinet. Gantz spoke for the public when he explained that the partnership was not political but rather a “fellowship in fate.”
When Gantz brought his party into the Netanyahu government, the first thing they agreed to do was to postpone all discussion of legal reform until after the war. Recognizing that the dispute was serious because the issue is serious, Netanyahu and Gantz agreed it was essential to set it aside to keep the public unified.
Their determination to put unity above even the most critical issues on the national agenda, including the form of Israel’s democratic system, reflected the will of the public. The Direct Polls survey last week showed that for 62% of the public, the top goal for the day after the war is ushering in a period of national reconciliation.
Hayut’s decision to use her last weeks of residual power to issue her judgment has been likened to throwing a hand grenade into a crowded IDF barrack. The government and Knesset responded to Hayut’s hand grenade by saying they would not respond until the war is over.
Failed politicians and generals
Hayut’s allies—the same failed politicians and generals who incited the year-long riots—are using her assault to sow demoralization and reinstate their anti-government protests in the midst of the current war.
Former IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz, who oversaw the 2005 expulsion of all Jews from Gaza and the destruction of their communities in the framework of Israel’s withdrawal from the Strip, and then led Israel to military defeat in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, declared last week that Israel has lost the Hamas war. He called for the left to wage a civil war and promised that victory will come when Netanyahu leaves power.
In his eulogy to his son Elhanan, Rabbi Binyamin Kalmanzon said, “Our sacred country is now experiencing one of the gravest crises in its history. The order of the day is unity! Disagreement can become a lethal bacterium, bacteria that escalate every possible disagreement. All ill will causes needless hatred.
“The enemy picked up our discord and division and convinced itself that this is the time to defeat us. For the sake of humanity, in the name of love of humanity and repairing the world, for the infants and the elderly, for the women and children, we must expunge this murderous evil.”
The mission of Israeli society today is to keep faith with the people of Be’eri and with the Kalmanzon brothers. We must marginalize the forces in our society who seek to divide us even at the cost of national destruction, set aside our differences, and work together towards victory at all costs.