Deep divisions are growing in Israel over the Palestinian bloodbath unleashed in the Gaza Strip and whether to continue this globally condemned war. Many public opinion polls show a significant decline in support for the current war cabinet and its Palestinian policies. Despite more than two months of an intensive bombing campaign and a ground operation ostensibly directed against Hamas, the Israeli occupying army has made little progress in achieving its stated objectives, namely, the release of hostages, the destruction of the Hamas military organization and consequently the Palestinian resistance, the discovery and complete destruction of a very extensive tunnel network.
Meanwhile, Israeli military losses are increasing day by day, requiring a large and constant influx of huge quantities of arms and ammunition from the US and other Western countries, which despite the bloodbath inflicted on the Palestinians are aiding and encouraging Israel’s leaders to continue to destroy the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Since the war began, Tel Aviv has received 10,000 tons of US munitions plus a $14 billion emergency aid package from Congress. Britain has supplied Israel with a large shipment of drones ostensibly for surveillance and to help search for hostages in Gaza. But most military analysts believe that the drones’ true purpose is to spy, conduct reconnaissance and assist Israeli artillery in targeting. Thus, whatever Westerners say, the US and UK are involved in the killing of Palestinian civilians. Here, incidentally, it wouldn’t be out of place to ask Washington and London, “Why aren’t you defending Palestinians’ human rights, which you seem to care about so much? And what do you make of statements by some ministers of the current government of Israel that “Palestinians are animals” that deserve to be “nuked”?
Other signs of growing opposition in Israel to the Netanyahu government and the way it is conducting the war come from current and former officials and politicians. Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on the prime minister to resign because of the government’s poor handling of the war against Hamas. “This government is dysfunctional,” he said in a television interview in mid-November. “We need change – Netanyahu cannot continue to be prime minister. We cannot afford to conduct a prolonged campaign with a prime minister that the public has no faith in.”
Former Shabak counterintelligence chief Yuval Diskin echoed this call more recently. In an article published on the Israeli news website Channel 12 on December 4, he wrote: “Netanyahu should resign and go home immediately.” Not only did Netanyahu refuse to take responsibility for the intelligence failure on October 7, but “he did not feel an ounce of guilt and responsibility [after the attack] or empathize with the families of the victims.” Netanyahu was “cold in body language, arrogant and evading reality,” he said, adding, “In the coming elections we must elect a new, worthy, humble leadership that loves its people and not itself.” According to a poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper Maariv in late November, the ruling coalition would “collapse” with only 41 seats if elections were held on the day of the poll. Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party will gain 43 seats, up from the current 12, while Netanyahu’s Likud will lose nearly half of its seats, dropping to 18 from 32 a year ago. A recent Maariv poll published on December 8 showed that 51% of Israelis polled believe that Benny Gantz is the most suitable candidate for prime minister, while only 31% believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is a better candidate.
Many prominent Jews have condemned the Israeli government and its Western supporters for their attempt to use anti-Semitism to silence criticism of Israel. A recent example is an open letter published by the literary and cultural online magazine n + 1, signed by more than a thousand Jewish writers and artists refuting the claim that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The letter condemns the use of this rhetorical tactic “to shield Israel from accountability, white-wash the US’s multibillion-dollar investment in Israel’s military, obscure the deadly reality of occupation, and deny Palestinian sovereignty.” It further states: “Now, this insidious gagging of free speech is being used to justify Israel’s ongoing bombing of Gaza and to silence criticism from the international community. We condemn the recent attacks on Israeli and Palestinian civilians and mourn such harrowing loss of life. In our grief, we are horrified to see the fight against antisemitism weaponized as a pretext for war crimes with stated genocidal intent.”
The decline in domestic support of the Israeli government and the war in Gaza is likely due to a combination of factors. The increasing death toll in the Israeli army is an important factor. As of December 8, 91 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive in Gaza, according to official reports. One of the dead is the son of Gadi Eisenkot, a former Army Chief of Staff and member of the current war cabinet. As a result, the Israeli military death toll has risen to 411 since October 7. However, other sources estimate that the war has claimed thousands of Israeli military casualties. In addition, some have been exposed to infectious diseases, and about a hundred have suffered serious eye injuries due to lack of safety goggles. According to the official Israeli broadcaster, ten to fifteen percent of these injuries resulted in blindness in one or both eyes.
The second factor is Israeli anger over the government’s failure to release the hostages. A leaked recording of Netanyahu’s war cabinet meeting with the hostages’ families on December 5 showed the extent of their fury. “You are putting politics above the return of the kidnapped,” said one Israeli woman, the hostage’s mother. Another former hostage complained: “The fact is that I was in a shelter that was shelled by our own troops, we had to be smuggled out, and many of us were wounded. That’s not counting the Israeli helicopter that shot at us on the way to Gaza.” Some attendees were so angered by the military’s behavior that they left the meeting and promised to continue their fight to bring Netanyahu’s cabinet and himself to trial.
The economic impact of the war is another important factor. The average purchasing power of Israelis has declined sharply since the outbreak of the war and the subsequent economic slowdown. Prices have risen further because of recent disruptions of food and other supply chains due to Houthi attacks on Israeli-owned or leased ships in the Red Sea. The real estate market is in crisis or, according to the Maariv newspaper, a complete collapse. By some estimates, new home sales have fallen 30-90% since the war began, depending on the region. Economists also warn that a slowdown in construction due to severe labor shortages threatens costly delays and possible bankruptcy for many construction companies.
The Israeli economy has also been hit hard by a sharp drop in tourism and the decision by many airlines to cut flights to Israel. According to Israeli business website Globes, the frequency of flights departing or landing at Ben Gurion Airport has dropped by 80 percent, a situation that is unlikely to improve anytime soon. The website also reports that “Ryanair, which has the largest fleet of airplanes in Europe and is one of the most popular low-cost carriers flying to and from Ben Gurion Airport, will cancel all of its flights to and from Israel next January.”
If tension and polarization of the population has been a central theme of Israeli domestic politics since the beginning of the year, the war has not only failed to address the problem, but seems to have exacerbated the trend. Opposition to the war and Netanyahu’s government by Israeli citizens will only intensify as the economy continues to deteriorate and casualties steadily rise. While the rockets of the Palestinian resistance, represented by the small but determined Hamas, continue to challenge the vast military machine of the Israeli occupation, Israel’s political leadership is under tremendous strain on the domestic front as never before, and experts believe that once hostilities end, both the cabinet and Netanyahu himself will have to retire.
Victor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.