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Jacob Resnick

Netanyahu Faces Criticism: Demographic Shift and Trust Deficit in Focus

Knesset Plenum debate, June 26, 2023. (courtesy)

On Monday, June 26, 2023, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu addressed the 40-signature debate of the Knesset under the title “Jeopardizing the People’s Army.” The central claim of this debate by the opposition parties in the Knesset is that the Prime Minister is failing Israel in every way he can be. Specifically, the opposition mentioned the inevitable demographic shift in Israel, the unilateral passing of significant legislation, and the general lack of trust in government seats.

Before Benyamin Netanyahu spoke, different members of the Knesset (MK) spoke against Bibi, notably Benjamin Gantz. Benny Gantz is a leader of the center/left Blue and White party in the Knesset, and he served as prime minister with Yair Lapid in the most recent government before Bibi. Gantz introduces the demographic issues of the state and how they will affect the IDF. In short, the Haredi and Arab population will soon outnumber the secular community in Israel. The Haredi and Arab people are not required to join the IDF. With the current system where everyone else has to enter the IDF, no one will fight for the country.

Benny Gantz also addressed the lack of trust in cabinet members that Bibi appointed. Many of the right-wing consistently disregard the need for peace and calm. Gantz watches Netanyahu “stand by as ministers in [his] government cause harm not only in their words but also in their actions. They undermine the powers and deny the legitimacy [of the security officials].” Gantz may be referring to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s seeming support of settler violence in the west bank. Smotrich claims the settler storming of the west bank town Turmus Ayya should not be treated as terror attacks but as civil crimes. Read here to learn about the violence and death at Turmus Ayya.

Netanyahu responded to Gantz and other members of the opposition in part. He replies, “Any statement that condemns the leaders of the organizations fighting terrorism or turns them into a mutinous force is unacceptable to me.” Bibi dodges blame completely and maintains that because his and the minister’s goals are fighting terrorism, they cannot be held liable for any wrong action they make. Bibi faces bribery charges himself, so it makes sense that he maintains corrupt officials should not be held responsible for corruption if they are still trying to do what is suitable for the country.

Further, Netanyahu argues that the IDF is nearing its personnel cap regardless of the Arab and Haredi populations. Israel’s military presence worldwide is massive, and Bibi claims that “it can’t be ignored that we are reaching the optimal size, and then it’s clear that the recruitment stops.” An appropriate response to the issue of serving in the army but not a proper response to the point of serving the country and drying tax funds. The Haredi population drains governmental funds, as most lie below the poverty line. The Haredi people do this voluntarily, believing it is their job to learn, even at the taxpayer’s expense. Haredi young adults mostly dodge army recruitment as they continue to study Judaism and do not contribute meaningfully to the economy.

There is a positive to Netanyahu’s response; that soldiers should be compensated for their time in the army. In the current system, army participation is unpaid. Young adults must put their lives on hold to fight for a country that gives them nothing back. Further, these Israelis in the army see people their age (Haredi people) getting money from the government for their studies while they sit comfortably in their homes. The very least the government can do is compensate the soldiers for their time, dedication, and lives in the army.

After Netanyahu sat down, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid took the stand and spoke harshly against the current majority. Much of Lapid’s speech mentions the government’s failings related to further terrorism in Israel. However, the most vital part was the final note; “The big problem of this government, [Netanyahu’s] problem is that [he] cannot be trusted … In the past, [he] could be trusted, but not anymore. [He] cannot be trusted with the education of our children. [He] cannot be trusted with [Israel’s] security, and we certainly cannot trust the falsehoods [he shares].” This scathing indictment of Bibi defines how the parties interact with each other. There is no way for any compromise as there is no trust in the system.

This Knesset debate underlines the increasing gap between the parties in the Knesset, as any sign of compromise seems to be thrown out the window. The feeling in the Knesset plenum was of pure hostility. As any person spoke, there were audible scoffs and responses from those in the debate. Although the discussion was moderated and rarely someone said out of turn, each speech was filled with emotion and volatility. A scary sight for sure, but we can only hope that more moderates in the coalitions can come together to sway the radical votes to compromise.

About the Author
Student at Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, dedicated to understanding the ins and outs of the Israeli situation.
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