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Rosner’s Domain | With Trust Eroding, Has Israel Reached Breaking Point?

The crisis I fear could come gradually or erupt at once.
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June 20, 2024
Protesters hold signs and flags during a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government on May 20, 2024 in Jerusalem. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

The crisis I fear could come gradually or erupt at once. It is getting closer. It is dangerous. If it arrives, Israel will have difficulty recruiting the manpower it needs for essential tasks. Yes, even patriots — and our soldiers prove every day that they are great patriots — could crack. We must remember this, lest we find ourselves surprised.

Think about the trend and events of the last few days:

Last Saturday was a day of many deaths. Eleven soldiers died. Their smiling faces break the heart of every citizen. Their stories remind us that we are all indebted, that we must be deserving of their courage and sacrifice. It is hard to look at them without reflecting on the heavy toll paid by the few for the many. It is hard to look at them without thinking about why they paid the heaviest price. And of course — we know why. In a broad sense we know why. There is a war, and the war is just and essential. And yet, life is precious, and we — their fellow Israelis — need to know that whoever sends our soldiers to battle does so with seriousness, with a clear purpose, with an acknowledgment of the price. 

The problem is we don’t always feel that way. The problem is that trust in the government, and the Prime Minister, is very low. This means that when Israelis are called for battle, to risk their lives, they are required to go even though the political leadership that sends them into the danger zone is a leadership they often do not trust. In the first months of the war, trust in the government was also low, but the sense of emergency was strong enough to mitigate doubts. Naturally, this sense of urgency gradually wears off, and the questions about purpose become more profound.

When Israelis are called for battle, they are required to go even though the political leadership that sends them into the danger zone is a leadership they often do not trust. 

Adding to the pile of doubts, our leadership was engaged this week in a maneuver whose components are contradictory: On the one hand, it strives to impose an additional burden on the regular and reserve servants by extending their service. On the other hand, it wants to legally exempt young ultra-Orthodox Israelis from the burden of service. And of course, we can talk back and forth about whether now is the right time to search for a remedy for a historic challenge of exemption. But we can’t obscure reality: the state adds to the already heavy burden of some people, while working to release their fellow citizens from all burden. 

And it doesn’t end with this: The public is also losing faith in Israel’s ability to win the war. This is an important fact. Because no one wants to be the one who, God forbid, is injured or killed in a war that is already over, or that we have already lost. No one wants to be the last soldier killed in Gaza. Yes, the soldiers know that Israel’s war is vital. Still, a nagging sentiment remains: If there is no chance of winning, or no chance of winning more than we have already won (if you think we did), motivation will naturally decrease.

Now think about the four things we mentioned: A daily reminder of what may happen to those who fight, low trust in the leadership that sends the soldiers into battle, doubt in Israel’s ability to achieve victory, and a growing awareness of the fact that not everyone shares in the burden. Such a toxic mix may make Israelis wonder: Should we report to duty? Should we risk our lives? The burden is heavy, especially on the reserves and their families. So, there may come a moment when some of them will find a reason, or an excuse, to stay home. And the more of them decide to do that, the heavier the burden on those who continue to serve. 

And who is going to tell them that there is no choice — the leaders they do not trust? And who is going to ask them to keep coming — the leaders who just voted to exempt others?

The war is a test for Israeli society. The war is a particularly difficult test for the groups that carry more of the burden within Israeli society. From month to month, the leadership raises the bar of difficulty, making the test more and more challenging. From month to month, the soldiers pass the test with honors. But this does not mean that the bar can be raised indefinitely. This does not mean that the soldiers will pass every test, under all circumstances.

Something I wrote in Hebrew

If the next elections reflect the current situation in the polls — and it is not at all certain that they will, because parties will still unite, break up and rise — no one will be satisfied. Everyone will have to compromise. What does it mean to compromise? If the parties of the current coalition get close to 60 seats, they will still have to add another party, which will limit their ability to achieve their goals … if the opposition parties get close to 60 seats, they will have to decide: Should they include Arab Ra’am again? Many voters oppose that option. So what, add an ultra-Orthodox party? This will also mean compromise that many voters would not accept. 

A week’s numbers

Here’s one bright side: war in Israel and antisemitism abroad made Israeli Jews much more aware of their commonalities with all Jews:

A reader’s response:

David Klein writes: “If Israel keeps the war going it’s going to lose a whole generation of young American Jews.” My response: Maybe, but if it doesn’t win it puts a whole generation of young Israeli Jews at great risk.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

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