newsIsrael at War

‘Zero politics, zero egos’: Knesset opens wartime winter session

Israel's unity governent to focus on the war against Hamas.

Lawmakers in Jerusalem congratulate one another after Israel's unity government is sworn in, Oct. 12, 2023. Credit: TPS.
Lawmakers in Jerusalem congratulate one another after Israel's unity government is sworn in, Oct. 12, 2023. Credit: TPS.

When the Knesset adjourned for its summer recess on July 30, Israelis were bitterly divided over judicial reform. Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations regularly drew thousands and IDF reservists were threatening to refuse to show up for duty.

Two and a half months later, Israel is at war. The country is led by a unity government. And in the wake of a devastating Hamas attack on southern communities, military reservists of all stripes quickly mobilized.

That changes the dynamic of the Israeli parliament’s winter session, which began on Monday.

MK Ohad Tal of the Religious Zionism Party noted that “many of the members of the Knesset went to the hardest-hit places.

“I’ve seen the most horrific sights I’ve ever seen in my life. On the other hand, I’ve also seen remarkable acts of unity, of people from all over the country, from all Israeli sectors and parts of society that came to work together, to give whatever they can to support the soldiers and the people from around Gaza,” he said.

In one sign that Tal said was encouraging, “All the members of Knesset opened up one WhatsApp group in which we’re running everything. Who’s going to which funeral, who’s going to the families, to help the missing, the families of soldiers, and helping evacuees at the hotels and so on.

“We’re all working together, coalition, opposition, zero politics, zero politics, zero egos, zero nonsense.”

The winter session will mostly focus on supporting the government’s war efforts and managing economic issues, Tal predicted.

“We still have problems we need to solve like the cost of living in Israel. But most of what we do will be about supporting the government and the security forces in this war,” he said.

The Knesset will eventually have to weigh in on how the war will end, Tal added.

“As I see it, it’s not just about exacting a heavy price from Hamas. It has to be more than that, it has to be something of a clear victory over Hamas,” Tal said. “And different people and different parties will have different opinions about what will be the end result. I’m sure there will be a lot of questions that we disagree on.”

But he added, “The unity we’re seeing today is at such a high level, I really hope it will continue. And I hope we can manage disagreements in this kind of unity.”

Crossing the aisle

Key figures crossing the aisle from the opposition to the government were Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa’ar and Gadi Eizenkot.

Gantz joined a newly formed war Cabinet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Gantz formerly served as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and was defense minister during the year-long rotational government under Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. Sa’ar served as justice minister in that government. Gantz and Sa’ar were sworn in as ministers without portfolio.

Eizenkot, who served as IDF chief of staff from 2015 to 2019, has never held a Cabinet position and will have observer status in the war Cabinet along with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer.

Yesh Atid Party leader Lapid refused to join the unity government but said he would support it from outside the coalition.

Lapid argues said the coalition’s governing structure is flawed, and he objects to the presence of “extremists” and to individuals he holds responsible for the “unpardonable failure” to prevent the Hamas attack.

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