| Knesset Channel |

Misreading the Map

Netanyahu recently described Benny Gantz, chair of the National Unity Party, as “the Democratic Party’s man in Jerusalem.”


In all the dueling off-the-record interviews given by one side of the war cabinet about the other, one thing has become clear: In the middle of the war against Hamas, the IDF has become a political football.

In one press account published on Sunday, the IDF chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, was said to have upbraided Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for failing to lay out a postwar strategy for Gaza. But the fire goes both ways; an anonymous cabinet official, who has had to witness the ceremonial entrance of the chief of staff with his train of senior officials, cynically observed to me that Halevi and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have undisclosed skills.

“They possess daring, sophistication, and the ability to surprise,” said the cabinet minister. “It’s a shame that their talents go into making general staff appointments rather than preparing the IDF for war.”

That comment was made last week, after the US presented the Qatari and Egyptian cease-fire proposal later revealed to have been dictated by Hamas, but before the IDF began its operation in Rafah.

The anonymous cabinet minister was speaking about the four IDF soldiers killed by shelling at the Keren Shalom crossing last week — deaths that should have been avoidable. The danger was known in advance, and the IDF even received a specific warning, just as on the night of Simchas Torah. So what happened?

“With the military chiefs busy with politics, it’s no question,” came the painful reply.

“If someone told us six months ago that the American administration would sign off on a deal negotiated by Hamas with the Egyptians and Qataris, even giving guarantees of an end to the war, and exert pressure on us to accept it by withholding supplies to the IDF, none of us would have believed it,” another frustrated cabinet member told me. “But instead of dealing with these issues, we’re fighting ‘the wars of the Jews’ against each other.”

The one who finds himself caught between the hammer and the anvil, between the chief of staff and the defense minister, is the highest-ranking official in the land. Binyamin Netanyahu was himself exposed as the “Israeli political source” who anonymously delivered a series of withering criticisms of the administration in the press. Netanyahu said this week in closed conversations that there are existential occasions when it’s the Israeli prime minister who must say “don’t” to the American president.

The revelation exacerbated the ongoing crisis between Netanyahu and Biden, which likely will only worsen as the November elections draw closer.


America’s negotiations with Hamas, Egypt, and Qatar behind Israel’s back could only occur in a context where the backstabbing started from within the war cabinet.

Netanyahu recently described Benny Gantz, chair of the National Unity Party, as “the Democratic Party’s man in Jerusalem.” But Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, who have spent the past few months looking for a way out of the emergency government, are a minor irritant compared to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

“Every time I talk to you, it feels like I’m talking directly to the media,” Netanyahu told Gallant sarcastically at one meeting.

But Netanyahu has only himself to blame. He could have bolstered his government from the right over the past six months by bringing Gideon Saar and Avigdor Lieberman into the war cabinet. And although Lieberman has long been a bête noire for chareidim, a source in his Yisrael Beitenu party made me aware this week that his positions are mild — compared to some voices being heard from within the right-wing government. Here’s an anecdote to prove it.

The Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Rav Yitzchak Yosef, is set to be awarded the Israel Prize on Yom Ha’atzmaut. But in light of his statement that chareidim will leave the country if forced to enlist in the IDF, a petition was recently launched to withdraw the prize. One Yisrael Beitenu MK was quick to sign up — but within an hour, the MK received a direct message from Lieberman to immediately desist from attacking the chief rabbi.

While there’s no guarantee that Lieberman won’t launch another tirade against the chareidi community tomorrow, the anecdote illustrates a missed opportunity. And what’s true for Lieberman is even more relevant to New Hope chair Gideon Saar, who left Gantz’s National Unity as a clear signal that he’s willing to continue to support the government even if Gantz leaves.

Not only in the security sphere but also in the political arena — the right-wing government is misreading the map.


For the first time in the history of the Jewish state, yeshivah bochurim started the summer zeman last week without draft-exempt status, as effective illegals. With uncharacteristic pessimism, Housing Minister Yitzchak Goldknopf said this week that the draft crisis will end the government this year.

Meanwhile, MK Uri Maklev of Degel HaTorah, Shas former minister Ariel Attias, and a number of litvish roshei yeshivah, have been strategizing for a legal fight. Their situation resembles the famous witticism by Jewish-American comedian Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

“The top lawyers we want to represent us in the High Court over the draft case are refusing to work for us, and the ones who agree to represent us, we don’t want,” quips Maklev.

The chareidi parties’ search for outside counsel was driven by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s refusal to represent the government on the draft issue. She “generously” gave permission for the government to appoint an outside lawyer, but that turned out to be a trap. Almost all of the senior lawyers from Israel’s leading law firms turned the government away. The reason is always the same: In the current political atmosphere, representing Netanyahu’s government, especially on an issue as explosive as the draft, would be professional suicide. The lawyer whose services were eventually secured is best known from the field of real estate.

This whole experience recalls Netanyahu’s trials in his personal criminal cases, where the following anecdote is illustrative. Ahead of the start of Netanyahu’s trial, a partner meeting was held in one of the largest firms in Israel to discuss whether or not to represent Netanyahu, who was already perceived as a threat to the system, even before the judicial reform. The senior partners, none of whom are Netanyahu supporters, debated the issue back and forth before agreeing to go ahead with it, if only for the sake of the publicity.

This was more than three years ago. Since then, Netanyahu has become radioactive in liberal circles. The mere mention of a law firm in connection with his cases is enough for cancellation in elite legal circles.

Riven by dissent amid a cruel war, and headed by a prime minister who’s a red flag for large sections of Israel’s electorate, this government will struggle to perform its most basic functions — never mind pass the most controversial legislation of all.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1011)

Oops! We could not locate your form.