These are the most perilous times the Jews have encountered since 1948.
In Israel, a little over a month since the terrorist attacks of Simcha Torah, 242 hostages are still being held, over 1,200 innocents have perished and the IDF is engaged in brutal urban warfare the likes of which it has never seen. The enemy is not only buried underground, it invites death in a perverse notion of religious martyrdom.
In the Diaspora, hatred of the Jew is commonplace, public and without charge. London’s National March for Palestine attracted 300,000 demonstrators, many of whom cried to the heavens for Israel’s destruction. Similar demonstrations have occurred in Paris, Berlin, Cape Town, New York and Toronto. On university campuses, faculty have openly espoused antisemitic vitriol while their students have been all too eager to join the chorus of bias and destruction. In Montreal, two yeshivas were shot at (while empty). Jewish students are unsafe.
Just recently, Israel’s minister for Aliyah and Integration said Israel has seen “a striking rise in the number of people exploring the possibility of immigration, with a 149 percent increase in France and an 81 percent increase in North America.” Jews, it seems, are running again.
Israel will win this war. Its bereaved, who will never fully heal, will live in freedom. Its forces, who will be humbled from the pain of immeasurable losses, will eradicate Hamas on the battlefield.
If anything is apparent now, it is that Benjamin Netanyahu must go. In order for the nation to achieve some measure of harmony in the post-war period, he must go. This man is a threat to unity. In fact, he thrives on its opposite.
Israelis voted in five elections between April 2019 and November 2022 and in all of them, Netanyahu was the primary issue. When he and the Likud failed to assemble a governing coalition the first time, instead of allowing his chief opponent Benny Gantz the opportunity to form a government, Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset and forced a second election. In the second election, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White parties virtually tied. Neither of them could form a government and so a third election was called.
By the third election, Netanyahu had been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, criminal charges regarding which he is currently on trial. This election too resulted in a near stalemate. Nevertheless, buoyed by the pressing challenges of the coronavirus, Netanyahu and Gantz entered into a power-sharing agreement whereby the former would serve as prime minister for 18 months, with the latter taking over thereafter. Netanyahu’s Likud reneged on the deal by refusing to pass a state budget and triggered a fourth election. The fourth election resulted in a narrow victory by Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid parties, who formed a government. Within one year this coalition failed to govern in unity and defectors caused a fifth election.
The fifth election of November 1, 2022, demonstrated just how desperate Benjamin Netanyahu was to cling to power. This man, who had previously held every important office in Israeli governance and led the country longer than any other prime minister, crossed the precipice. Unable to form a coalition with any mainstream Zionist party, Netanyahu’s Likud did so with United Torah Judaism, Shas, the Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit and Noam.
The Religious Zionist Party is led by Bezalel Smotrich. Smotrich was arrested in 2005, when he was found with 700 litres of gasoline and suspected of attempting to blow up parts of the Ayalon highway over Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. A “proud homophobe,” in 2006, Smotrich organized a counter protest to Jerusalem’s Gay pride parade, which was called “Beast Parade.” In 2019, he advocated for Israel to be governed by Jewish law. Smotrich has called for the mass murder of Palestinian civilians. In Netanyahu’s new government, he was made minister of finance and second minister in the Defense Ministry, a new position giving him almost complete control over civilian matters in settlement in Judea and Samaria.
Oztma Yehudit is led by Itamar Ben Gvir. Ben Gvir rose to some notoriety prior to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, when he waved the stolen emblem of Rabin’s Cadillac on TV, declaring, “we got to his car and we’ll get to him too.” The IDF refused his entry at conscription due to his extremist background. Ben Gvir has been convicted of supporting a terrorist group. In 2021, he pulled a handgun on unarmed Arab security guards over a parking dispute. In Netanyahu’s new government Ben Gvir was named minister of national security and promised control over a newly-formed gendarmerie to police violence in Arab communities.
Noam is led by Avi Maoz. Maoz is virulently opposed to LGBT rights and Reform Judaism. He argues for gender segregation in public events and is against women serving in the IDF. Noam has one seat in the current Knesset. Its involvement is not mathematically required in the coalition but in Netanyahu’s new government, Maoz became a minister focused on Jewish identity in Israeli schools.
Prior to their ascension to power, Netanyahu refused to be photographed with Smotrich or Ben Gvir. After it, and in light of his criminal proceedings, he was beholden to them. Many honest observers believe these two and Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties are Netanyahu’s last line of defense outside the courtroom. As long as they remain in their ministerial roles, the thinking goes, Netanyahu will be saved from possible guilty verdicts in the form of protective legislation. Indeed, one their first orders of business was to pass a law almost completely shielding Netanyahu from being removed from office.
When the Bennett-Lapid government was formed, its leaders, understanding the narrow mandate handed to them, promised to govern in line with national consensus. They agreed to advance legislation most Israelis could agree on. They would not touch controversial issues (which are plenty in Israel) in light of the previous elections and societal divisions they sowed. The Coronavirus was still top of mind and there were serious security issues to deal with, including a maritime deal with Lebanon being advanced by Washington and fighting with Hamas. To the extent possible, Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid were not intent on using their time in office to further divide Israelis, they said.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, used his narrow victory after Israel’s most recent election to embark on the most controversial legislation in the nation’s history. The coalition’s judicial reform package was denounced by leading economists, corporations, academics and security experts, and the president of the United States. In response, the indicted Netanyahu had his coalition pass the above mentioned law protecting him from removal, which he declared allowed him to circumvent an earlier agreement with the attorney general stating he would be barred from involvement in matters of the judiciary while his trial was ongoing.
Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul caused the largest protests ever as hundreds of thousands of Israelis rallied across the country for some 30 weeks (until the terrorist attacks of October 7). Netanyahu’s government denounced the protestors, labelling them anarchists and he begged opposition leaders to stop dragging the country into this so-called anarchy. When reservists pilots refused to report for duty in protests, Netanyahu said, Israel could do “without a few squadrons.” (One wonders what he thinks about the necessity of these squadrons now.) In March 2023, when Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria rioted in the Palestinian town of Hurawa, burning homes, cars, stores and assaulting civilians, Netanyahu compared them to the judicial overhaul protestors. (The protest leaders are now leading a massive humanitarian campaign to aid Israeli civilians and the country’s war effort.)
In capitulating to his coalition partners, while the country was grappling with the judicial overhaul protests, Netanyahu approved unprecedented funding for yeshivas. This caused the National Union of Israeli Students to petition the High Court on grounds of discrimination.
Since the war against Hamas began, Netanyahu has publicly blamed the defence and intelligence establishment for providing him faulty assessments prior to October 7 and was reported to have said there would be a need to investigate whether the reservists who refused to serve under him somehow contributed to Hamas’s attacks. He did so while the country was burying its dead and praying for its captives.
Netanyahu is the man who headlined a rally in Jerusalem where Prime Minister Rabin was called a “traitor,” murderer” and “Nazi” a few weeks prior to his assassination. He also participated in a local demonstration where people behind him carried a mock coffin. This is the man who addressed Congress at the invitation of only one party, thereby embarrassing the sitting president of the United States for partisan political considerations.
In a recent poll, over 80 percent of Israelis called on Netanyahu to take public responsibility regarding the events of October 7, like many leaders of the security establishment have done. He has refused. Another poll showed a clear preference for Gantz over Netanyahu in the present state. Whereas wartime leaders usually enjoy significant increases in public approval, the opposite is currently true of Netanyahu.
Benjamin Netanyahu is at once compromised by his own personal criminal indictments and beholden to the most extreme elements of Israeli society. He is desperate and as a result, cannot help but govern divisively. It seems Israelis are finally ready to move on from his rule. It is difficult to imagine how they can heal, as a collective, if they don’t.