Susie Becher

Hell no, they won’t go… unless we make them

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden at a meeting of the war cabinet on October 18, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden at a meeting of the war cabinet on October 18, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

The government that is in power at the moment is not only the government that failed to correctly assess Hamas’s intentions and its strength. It is not only the government that expended vital military resources responding to (some say enabling) West Bank clashes sparked by rampaging settlers. It is not only the government that has been in hiding from the general public and the families of the victims and has failed to establish an adequate mechanism to deal with the civilian evacuations. Even through the fog of war, through our tears and fears, we must not forget that it’s also the same government against which hundreds of thousands of Israelis marched for 39 weeks to oppose its plans to turn Israel’s flawed democracy into an out-and-out dictatorship. That government has not changed its objectives. What it has done is compound its sins by bringing upon us the greatest catastrophe known to the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and yet it is still running the show.

Netanyahu’s One and All

At the head of that government still stands Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been falling all over President Biden after flipping him the bird for speaking out against the judicial overhaul. At the time, Netanyahu reminded Biden that “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people.” Netanyahu is no longer flashing that sovereignty in the president’s face, as he opens his arms wide to accept US military aid as Israel enters what looks like a fight to the finish with Hamas.

Netanyahu, who has sown such division that many families couldn’t even sit across the table from each other during the recent High Holidays, is spewing slogans about the need for the public to stand united as the war goes on.  His objective in this is for the public to stand united – behind him, desperately hoping that victory against Hamas will save his skin. Netanyahu’s behavior is still driven by the ego and self-interest that have blinded him since his indictment. As reports that there may have been warnings prior to the attack emerged, the prime minister unashamedly asserted that he learned of the situation along with the rest of the country on Saturday morning at 06:29. Knowing Netanyahu, that may well be a lie. But even if it isn’t, his assertion of ignorance as an excuse does not exactly inspire confidence. I urge my readers to recall his composure as he looked into the cameras following his hospitalization in July and declared that he was suffering from dehydration when he was actually diagnosed with heart problems. Lance Armstrong’s denials of drug use pale in comparison, but Armstrong is not sitting in the Prime Minister’s Office making decisions that will mean life or death for millions.

Yair Netanyahu is still in exile, thank goodness, so we can hope that his influence on his father is minimal. On the other hand, Sara Netanyahu returned from London to spread vitriol, giving a radio interview in which she called for “a very big revenge” against those she refused to call “human animals, because that would be insulting to animals.” Words of wisdom from the prime minister’s spouse. There are also reports attributing to her Netanyahu’s refusal to work with a Defense Ministry task force responsible for infrastructure repair in the devastated communities because the force is headed by Major General Roni Numa, an avowed opponent of the judicial overhaul and vocal Netanyahu critic.

Ben-Gvir’s Fanaticism

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is still there, and his wings have not been clipped.  After Secretary Anthony Blinken’s meeting with the war cabinet, the agreement they worked out was passed on to the wider cabinet where Ben-Gvir’s insistence on changes were accepted.  Ben-Gvir wants to arm all Israelis, which could easily lead to the summary of execution of any Arab involved in a fatal car accident or who dares to pull out a nail file or reach in his pocket for his phone in a public place. On Sunday, the Knesset National Security Committee approved more lenient conditions for obtaining a gun license. The committee’s legal advisor was misled into allowing the vote because the regulations were supposed to be temporary, but they were approved on a permanent basis.

In one of his very few public appearances over the past week and a half, Ben Gvir reminded his audience that “we are all Jews,” ignoring the number of Israeli Arabs killed or wounded in the attacks because they are not one of the chosen, privileged, entitled, and supreme Jewish people. Under Ben Gvir’s command, Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai posted a video on TikTok telling all Israeli Arabs that if they “identify with Gaza,” he will “put them on buses that will send them there.” Note that the warning was about identifying with Gaza, not Hamas, making expressions of sympathy for the people of Gaza a crime that warrants expulsion.

Before moving on from Ben Gvir, I must remind you that in response to Biden’s criticism of the judicial overhaul, Ben Gvir said the president “must internalize that Israel is no longer another star in the American flag.”  The unequivocal support Biden has demonstrated since the war began has not humbled this dangerous fanatic in the least, and his response to the US request (demand?) to enable humanitarian aid was that as long as the hostages remain captive, “the only thing that should be sent into Gaza is hundreds of tons of explosives from the Air Force.” Like Netanyahu, he, too, remains firmly in his seat.

Foreign Ministry SNAFUs

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is still there, continuing his inept handling of Israel’s foreign affairs. Among Cohen’s long list of blunders is his disclosure of what was meant to be a secret meeting with Libyan Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush, who was sacked and later had to flee as a result of the political outcry and protests that swept the country. Cohen also ordered the Israeli envoy to Romania to meet with George Simion, leader of the far-right Alliance for the Union of Romanians party known for holding antisemitic positions. Simion has expressed support for Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, and in the eyes of Netanyahu’s government, support for settlements trumps antisemitic remarks any time.

An indication of Cohen’s contribution to the government’s mishandling of the current crisis can be found in his attack on the Vatican for issuing an “unacceptable” statement because, in addition to expressing sorrow for the loss of innocent Israeli lives, supporting Israel’s right to self-defense, and calling for the immediate release of the hostages, Pope Francis dared to express concern for innocent Palestinian victims living under siege in Gaza. One must remember that as far as Israel is concerned, Palestinians are never innocent; at best, they are uninvolved. The Vatican statement was followed by an offer by Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, to turn himself over to Hamas in exchange for the hostages, but that did nothing to pacify Cohen, who is still warming his chair in the Foreign Ministry.

Karhi’s War on Freedom of Speech

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi is still there.  Karhi’s contribution to the government’s quashing of civil rights that preceded the war was a plan to place media regulation under government control. Critics warned that the plan would favor right-wing Channel 14 and harm public broadcaster Kan and other networks seen as unfavorable to the government. Following the outbreak of the war, Karhi is moving full speed ahead to quash freedom of speech. According to reports (which he has vigorously denied), Karhi’s original intention was to pass legislation that would allow the detention of anyone whose media output undermined morale, harmed national security, or incited to rebellion, even if the statement was factually correct! He is now promoting emergency regulations that would allow him to halt broadcasts and confiscate the equipment of media outlets seen to harm national security or serve as a basis for enemy propaganda. This version is reportedly designed to close down the local Al Jazeera offices, but concerns have been raised about even broader impingements on freedom of the press. The closure of Al Jazeera will be discussed by the government on Sunday, along with a regulation to remove Al Jazeera channels from all Israeli networks. If Al Jazeera goes, can Haaretz be far behind? Indeed, with Karhi still there, this is probably just the beginning.

And let’s not forget that their minions are still there, in the Knesset, spreading their poison. Amid many who are calling to level the entire Gaza Strip, Likud MK Tally Gotliv takes the cake for suggesting that Israel drop a doomsday weapon on Gaza. Why wait for them to die of starvation and pestilence when we can be done with them in one fell swoop?

The Buck Lies There

Placing the blame elsewhere is taking shape as the government’s strategy.  Netanyahu dispatched Minister Mickey Zohar, his chief lackey, to face the media and admit that the government failed the people, assuring his audience that an investigation will be held into the mistakes of this and all previous governments. Previous? Except for the brief term of the Bennett-Lapid government, Bibi has been in power since 2009. I guess that’s why at the news conference where he said his mea culpa, Minister Bezalel Smotrich referred to the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2005 Gaza Disengagement Plan when he said that the time will come for settling accounts.  Pretty convenient to hold to account former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, R.I.P.

There we have just a few examples of how the “fully, fully right-wing coalition” is continuing to pursue its agenda. Bibi is continuing to put himself first, Sara is continuing to keep his rivals at bay even if it means doing without their expertise, Ben-Gvir is trying to insert his racist ideology into strategic decisions being taken by the cabinet, Foreign Ministry staffers are floundering under Cohen’s ineptness, Karhi is looking for innovative ways to silence opposition, and they are all looking for ways to emerge unscathed.  None of them believe that their time is up, and none of them believe it should be.

Redirecting the Power of the Protests

And so it lies to the public to bring them down. The energy and determination that fueled the protests against the judicial overhaul for close to 10 months must now be harnessed into calls for the government to resign. We must not allow their mismanagement of the crisis to continue, as it could cost us many more lives. Some of them are driven by blind ambition, some of them by fanatic ideology. Some are blatant liars and others believe they are disseminating God’s truth. Whatever is driving them, they must not remain there another day.

On the bright side, in a lengthy thread on X (formerly Twitter), veteran journalist Anat Saragusti suggested that all the American activity we are witnessing is because the United States is really calling the shots.  Let’s hope she’s right.

About the Author
Susie Becher is Managing Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, a collaborative quarterly published in Jerusalem; is Communications Director of the Policy Working Group, a team of senior academics, former diplomats, human rights defenders, and media experts who advocate for an end to the occupation and a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and serves on the Steering Committee of Zulat, an activist think tank advocating for human rights and equality in Israel.
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