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The Problem Isn’t Just Netanyahu. It’s Israeli Society.

Despite blaming the prime minister, a large majority of Jewish Israeli citizens support his destructive policies in Gaza and beyond.

When U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, one of the staunchest pro-Israel lawmakers in the United States and the highest-ranking Jewish official in Washington, effectively called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster on the Senate floor in mid-March, it was a watershed moment for anyone following Israel’s role in U.S. politics.

Israel has been so sacrosanct in America for so long that the idea that a hawkish Democrat like Schumer would call for regime change in Israel is extraordinary. But the Senate leader’s stance is fairly mainstream among Israelis. There’s consensus—even within his own party—that elections should be held early. It seems like conventional wisdom in Israel that Netanyahu is dragging out the war for his own political survival, since he knows the moment it comes to a halt, Israelis will focus even more resolutely on investigating the failures of Oct. 7 and pushing for early elections to vote him out of office.

The focus on Netanyahu is a convenient distraction from the fact that the war in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s war, it is Israel’s war—and the problem isn’t only Netanyahu; it’s the Israeli electorate.

Blaming Netanyahu—who refuses to leave Israeli political life despite being on trial for corruption and presiding over the country during the worst catastrophe in its history—has eclipsed the fact that when it comes to Israeli policies on Gaza in particular, and the Palestinians in general, many Israelis are broadly aligned with Netanyahu. By a large margin they support the current military campaign in Gaza and the government’s goal of destroying Hamas, whatever the human toll for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

A large majority—88 percent—of Jewish Israelis polled in January believe the astounding number of Palestinian deaths, which had surpassed 25,000 at the time, is justified. A large majority of the Jewish public also thinks that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is using adequate or even too little force in Gaza. Couched in the idea that Hamas forced this “war of no choice” upon Israel and the people of Gaza and that Hamas must be destroyed as a matter of Israeli survival, even the threat of imminent famine in Gaza has not provoked opposition to the campaign.

Further, in a February poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, around two-thirds of Jewish respondents (63 percent) said they oppose the proposal for Israel to agree in principle to the establishment of an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state. Israeli leaders have framed the movement underway internationally for governments to unilaterally recognize Palestine as a state to be rewarding the Palestinians for the Oct. 7 attack.

You don’t need a poll to discover that support for a two-state solution, much less for Palestinian basic rights of freedom and self-determination, has been steadily declining among Jewish Israelis in recent years, and today is probably the lowest it has ever been. You can just look at the positions of Israel’s Jewish political parties. Almost none of them endorse a two-state solution, and the ones in power actively reject it, working fastidiously to thwart it from ever happening.

The thousands of Israelis who are once again turning out to march in the streets are not protesting the war. Except for a tiny handful of Israelis, Jews, and Palestinians, they are not calling for a cease-fire or an end to the war—or for peace. They are not protesting Israel’s killing of unprecedented numbers of Palestinians in Gaza or its restrictions on humanitarian aid that have led to mass starvation. (Some right-wing Israelis even go further by actively blocking aid from entering the strip.) They are certainly not invoking the need to end military occupation, now in its 57th year. They are primarily protesting Netanyahu’s refusal to step down and what they see as his reluctance to seal a hostage deal.

At a recent protest in Jerusalem, “We are not our government” signs were front and center, echoing the distinction Democrats are making between the Netanyahu government and its people.

But that distinction is misleading.

2nd April 2024


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