Sherwin Pomerantz

Understanding Israel in a time of war

Recently readers of my daily blog, which has been running non-stop five days a week since the start of the war, have asked me to back off the news focus for a moment and tell them what I think. So, this blog will deal with some of the facts of life in Israel during war time and what I think needs to be done to get ourselves out of this mess not of our making that has gone on far too long, for sure.

Israeli reporter Avi Shavit summarized the current situation best when he wrote in an op-ed last Friday: “225 days since October 7, this Shabbat, too, Hamas will fire rockets at the communities on the Gaza border. Hezbollah will send drones to the Galilee, and Israel will be left with no way to respond. Seven and a half months since the day of our defeat, there is still no victory.”

He continues, “With the hostages still suffering horribly in Gaza’s tunnels of evil and soldiers dying in fierce battles in Gaza, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant is not speaking to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Prime Minister is not speaking to the Minister of Defense. There is a great deal of friction between Israel and the United States and a conflict with Egypt, and Israel is being tried at the Hague. The world does not understand the State of Israel, the People of Israel do not understand the Government of Israel, and the Tribes of Israel are fighting again. The Great War is only in its beginning stages, but we’re behaving as if there is no war, as if 1,500 Israelis were not murdered or killed, as if hundreds of Israelis were not kidnapped and tortured, as if there is no Iran and there is no extremist Axis of Evil and as if there’s no knife hanging above our necks. This cannot go on.”

He is correct and, like many of us, he worries that while we sometimes flippantly refer to the war as the response to an existential threat to our survival as a nation, the threat is real and should not be taken lightly.

Who is to blame for where we are?

There are banners around the country as well as video clips on the internet trying to place the blame on the prime minister. While he is not directly to blame for what happened on October 7th nor for the failure to achieve victory during the past seven months, as former US President Truman often proclaimed, “The Buck Stops Here.”  The chief executive officer of a country cannot claim to be blameless for what happens on his watch. He cannot claim that he has no responsibility and that it was all the fault of others. There is no doubt in the minds of any of us that if and when we are victorious, he will claim total responsibility for that success. So too, when the chips fall the other way, he is similarly responsible.

What do we do next?

Having said that, while I believe it would be in Israel’s best interests if the prime minister were to resign, massive demonstrations urging him to resign are futile.  The personality of the man is such that no demonstration in the country is large enough to force him to abandon his post as prime minister. Those of us who are convinced that after 14 years in this position it is time for him to leave need to use the mechanisms of the democratic process that operates in a parliamentary democracy to make that happen. In a word, if we believe that an extreme right-wing government is not what Israel needs right now, we must work on convincing certain members of the coalition who we know to be people of principle, to bolt that coalition, and, lacking a majority, dissolve parliament and force the government to go to new elections.

I believe (and hope) that there are people like Yuli Edelstein, Nir Barkat, Avi Dichter, Amir Ohana, Danny Danon, Yoav Galant, Chili Tropper and others who, deep in their heart, know that new leadership must be found to change the country’s direction. Who can convince them? The young people who this government sent to war and who know that the country cannot return to the level of internal strife we experienced in the first nine months of 2023 during the judicial reform battle.

These miluimnikim as they are called in Hebrew, people who were called to reserve duty on October 8th and showed up at a level of 130% of the numbers required, many of whom are now missing limbs or have other injuries they will carry with them forever. are the people who should force those with a conscience to leave the coalition. As many of them have already correctly opined, the country needs to be worthy of the sacrifice made by almost 300 members of the IDF who gave their lives to secure the future of Israel.

Once the coalition disintegrates and the parliament is dissolved, we can go legally to elections and hope that the same people in power today are not returned to power. I hesitate to even contemplate what might happen if the leadership is not changed. This effort should begin immediately.

The Hostages

What many people abroad do not understand about Israel is our rock-solid commitment to doing everything we can to bring the hostages home, dead or alive, but preferably alive.  This is a value that every citizen of Israel shares with every other citizen and one that is based on Jewish law and tradition. Redeeming the captives is mandatory according to the Torah and Israel has made some incredibly unbalanced past trades in order to observe that dictate.

I know that to the people who don’t live here, trading 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have blood on their hands, in order to redeem one, two or three hostages seem ludicrous. But there is a covenant here between the government and the people, based on Jewish tradition, that demands that we do all we can to bring them back. Doing so may prolong the war, it may cause longer periods of grief for the families of those who are in battle on the front lines, but it is something we owe to each other which we dare not abandon….neither the hostages nor the principle involved.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” Those who are left now bear the responsibility to ensure that their sacrifice and those of their compatriots who gave their lives for the state were not in vain.  Those presently in power owe their allegiance to these young people who proved their mettle and did so to ensure the successful continuation of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, the land which the good Lord entrusted to all of us for eternity. May they be successful in their endeavors and may Israel be sustained.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.