The (Israeli) Politics of War

For more than nine decades Israelis, and Jewish Settlers before that, have struggled and contended with the Arabs over the existence of the Judenstaat. In the most recent flare up, as with so many before, internal politics, although somewhat set aside by the need for short-term unity, have continued to be contentious. Since the beginning of this conflict a number of fascinating political changes and antics have captured but little attention as the news poured in from the front lines.

While our brave defenders of Zionism go into battle to protect the miracle that is modern Israel, Israeli politicians have also fought on with their own agendas. Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has already had to warn the members of the cabinet against making statements that would harm Israel or the government. This warning may have been directed toward Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman or Transportation Minister Naftali Bennet. Both claimed that the chastisement was not directed at them. It is possible that it was a preemptive warning from Bibi. Operation Protective Edge will achieve its primary mission objective today: the destruction of the Gaza tunnels. That means the opportunity to withdraw IDF ground forces from the Gaza Strip. Such a decision (which the cabinet may already have taken) will certainly draw the ire of the Israeli right. MK Moshe Feiglin, the mouthpiece of Likud’s most fanatical central committee members, has already condemned such a decision.

Whenever there is a conflict there is always the requisite inquiry. No sooner had IDF ground forces entered Gaza than calls from Israel’s far left began for a formal investigation of the war. Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On had to make the statement that she felt it was too early such an investigation. This was worth a small sigh of relief. Typically, investigations take place after the events they intend to scrutinize, not during. Thank you, Zahava.

Bibi also took the excellent opportunity to fire Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. Danon has been challenging Bibi’s leadership of Likud. Beyond this, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has repeatedly stated that he does not trust Danon and has not delegated any decision making powers or duties to his deputy. The Deputy Defense portfolio has no formal powers it is a role that supports the Defense Minister. With Danon fired in disgrace, Bibi has dealt a serious blow to his radical opponents in Likud.

Perhaps the most interesting development that has arisen during the current conflagration surrounds Haneen Zoabi. The Knesset Member of the Arab Balad Party was well known for riding along with the Gaza Flotilla in 2010 and then returned to the Knesset to make a speech about it. Dictionaries the world over should place a picture of Zoabi next to any definition of chutzpah. When three Israeli teens were kidnapped nearly a month ago, she said the kidnappers were justified: “The kidnappers are not terrorists, they’re just fighting occupation,” she stated. Zoabi has also incited violence with her fiery anti-Israel rhetoric during the conflict. The Knesset Ethics Committee finally took action on Speaker Yudi Edelstein’s complaints about her incitement and has suspended from participation in the Knesset for six months. A small degree of justice.

Isaac Herzog, Labor’s young new leader, has been laying low. His last salvo was calling out the price tag killing of an Arab teenager as an act of terrorism. Since then, he has taken the wiser course of waiting out the conflict. After the battle there will be plenty of time for angling and maneuvering. This course only increases his chances of reclaiming Labor’s place as the leader of the Israeli left and the likelihood of a future Labor-led government. Labor is vulnerable to the claim of weakness in foreign policy. By quietly supporting Bibi’s government during this flare-up, he can avoid bad press along those lines. Learn more about Isaac Herzog in my previous articles.

As soon as the conflict ends we can expect the return of the usual jockeying and posturing. For the moment, we can enjoy the relative quiet, chuckle at the musings of the far right, and take note of the small number of very significant political changes that have taken place over the past month.

About the Author
Isaac Kight earned his MBA at Bar-Ilan University in 2010. He served as a volunteer for the Knesset State Control Committee from 2009 to 2010. Isaac has a broad experience of Jewish community and religion in the US and Israel.