After Hamas discovered a secret Israeli operation in Gaza and killed one of Israel’s elite soldiers, the organization fired 460 rockets and mortars into Israel. One person in Israel was killed (a Palestinian from Hebron) and dozens more were injured. All this came just two days after Israel allowed $15 million (of an eventual $90 million) to pass from Qatar to Gaza in an attempt to secure a ceasefire on the Gazan border.
Faced with either launching a full-fledged military operation, ignoring the Hamas rockets or choosing to respond to Hamas with a significant blow, Netanyahu chose the last option. After two tense days, Egypt brokered an unofficial ceasefire between the two sides, with Israel guaranteeing “quiet” on their side as long as the rockets stop. This incensed Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned from his post in response to what he perceived to be “capitulation to terror.” He criticized Israel’s “drastically lacking” response to the rocket attacks, and claimed that Israel is “buying quiet for a heavy price with no long-term plan to reduce violence toward us.”
Why Does This Matter?
Israeli politics: Will Netanyahu lose his coalition? As Lieberman’s resignation brings with it his and his party’s (Yisrael Beytenu, Israel is our home) withdrawal from Netanyahu’s Knesset coalition, Netanyahu is left with a delicate 61-59 majority. Elections are set to take place in November 2019, but the dissolution of the coalition would bring them closer. Lahav Arkov of The Jerusalem Post feels that an early election “could have disastrous results,” and compared this current potential dissolution to the toppling of the right-wing governments in “1992 and in 1999, which brought us the disaster of Oslo and the disaster of the [Second] Intifada.”
Prime Minister and Defense Minister? For a few days, the Defense Minister’s seat, a supremely significant position in Israeli government, was left vacant, with many assuming that Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) would fill it, but Netanyahu chose to assume the defense minister position after Lieberman’s resignation, saying that in the midst of a military campaign, “you don’t play with politics,” and with a not-so-subtle jab at Lieberman, said that “the security of the state is above all else.” It was not just the right-wing flank, led by Bennett, who was angered by this decision, but the left wing as well. Both Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay and the head of left-wing Meretz, Tamar Zandberg, thought Netanyahu’s decision to take the defense minister position was “hypocritical” and was unnerved by their perspective that Netanyahu was “mixing politics and security.”
Israel in the eyes of Hamas: When Lieberman resigned, he said that Israel’s “weakness is being broadcast.” He believes that Israel’s response to the rockets was not all that was due to Hamas, and that upholding a ceasefire weakens Israel’s position. Ironically, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh applauded Lieberman’s resignation, calling it a “political victory” for Hamas. He said that Lieberman’s resignation is an “admission of defeat for him and the usurping entity.” Netanyahu, however, claimed that Hamas “begged for a ceasefire.” According to columnist Michael Koplow, Netanyahu’s “cautious response” was the “responsible course of action” even though it “activated a predictable and cynical political response, not only from the opposition but from his own coalition partners.”
Diversity of Perspectives within Israel
Avigdor Lieberman made his stance on Netanyahu’s decisions clear; many Israelis support Lieberman’s resignation and disapprove of Netanyahu’s perceived tepid response to the shelling from Hamas in Gaza, as the frequent bombardment has become increasingly intolerable for the residents in the south.
This past Thursday in Tel Aviv, hundreds of residents of Israel’s southern towns and other supporters protested Netanyahu’s decision, holding signs and chanting slogans such as “Bibi resign, the South is burning” and “Let us grow up in peace.”
Frustration was brought to a boil when Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi created an uproar by calling the rocket attacks “minor” since they targeted Israel’s south rather than Tel Aviv, though he later apologized for this comment. Netanyahu aimed to set the record straight by saying that the “security of the residents of the south” is “just as important as the security of the rest of Israel.”
Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, acknowledged that it’s “easy to criticize the cabinet for agreeing to a ceasefire” after nearly 500 rockets fell into Israel. Yet he explains why Netanyahu made the right call: “A war with Hamas would end with both Israel and Gaza in pretty much the same place they are in now.” He argues that “without a clear…plan, nothing will really change.” Though strange bedfellows, left-wing Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, usually critical of Netanyahu, also praised him for blocking another war, calling him the “most resolute war-hater among the country’s leaders” because of whom “no blood was shed.” Netanyahu chose to avoid war despite the unpopularity of the decision.
Where will this all lead? Chemi Shalev has “Bibi-fatigue” and feels that “enough is enough,” believing that Israelis “realize that it’s time for a change.” Yet, Haim Shine is disappointed by what he perceives as political opportunism from both the left and the right, calling Israeli politics “a bazaar,” and suggesting that “politicians are solely pursuing their own personal interests.” Both left-wing leaders, such as Zionist Union Chairman Avi Gabbay, Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, have criticized Netanyahu’s response in Gaza, calling for a more serious response, and the right wing, led by Liberman and Bennett, have competed “over who is more hawkish.”
- Of all the leaders in the spotlight this week–Bennett, Lieberman and Netanyahu–who do you think showed true leadership qualities, and whose decisions do you question?
- Do YOU want Benjamin Netanyahu to remain the Prime Minister, or do you think it’s time for a new leader of the state? If so, who would it be and why?
- Israel is allowing millions of dollars to pass from Qatar to Gaza. Why? Do you agree with this move? See this article for more information.
Practical Classroom Tips
- Do a “big paper” silent conversation and have students critique both Lieberman’s decision to resign and Netanyahu’s decision to become defense minister himself. See here for a description on how to do this with your students.
- Play this video to the class (Arabic with Hebrew subtitles) of an Arab-speaking IDF spokesman urging Gazans to stop the violence on the border. Engage in a discussion: why would the IDF produce this video? Is it effective? Have students come up with a message of their own that they would send to rioters.
Engaging with Israel: Random but Important
- Moshe Leon secured the mayorship of Jerusalem, beating out much-younger candidate Ofer Berkovitch. Leon won by a narrow 51.5% of the vote.
- El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv landed in Athens on Friday afternoon amid pressure to land the plane before Shabbat. Initial reports claimed that Haredi passengers became violent, but later reports affirmed that this was not at all the case.
- A group of high school boys are developing a computerized bracelet for water safety; lifeguards can track and help people in distress.