News | War / Peace - Israel - War in Israel/Palestine In the War Bubble

The mood in Israel is more nationalistic than ever before, but opposition persists



Gil Shohat,

[Translate to en:] Israelische Aktivist*innen protestieren in Tel Aviv gegen den Krieg.
Israeli activists in Tel Aviv protest against the war, 27 February 2024. Photo: IMAGO / Saeed Qaq

On Friday, 26 January 2024, the television or radio was on in many Israeli households as people tuned in to live coverage from The Hague. On the public radio station Kan Reshet Bet, moderator Liat Regev and a legal expert from Tel Aviv University discussed the proceedings and ruling at the UN International Court of Justice, which was weighing South Africa’s application for an injunction against Israel over the risk of genocide being committed in the current war in Gaza. In Regev’s opinion, what was said was less important than whether the decision implied that genocide was or was not occurring.

Gil Shohat directs the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Tel Aviv Office.

Regev looked startled when, at one point, a judge carefully described the unimaginable destruction of infrastructure and horrendously high death toll in the Gaza Strip caused by Israel’s actions, as if this description were an indication of an impending condemnation of Israel. The legal expert joining her on air assured her that these were simply the facts, but there was no need for listeners to worry about what most political commentators in Israel saw as a historic low point for the country’s international reputation.

After the verdict was given — and with it the court’s recognition that genocidal acts could be occurring — much of the analysis in Israel focused on the fact that the court had not demanded Israel end military operations in Gaza. Few commentators discussed the fact that the court’s decision represented another milestone in the country’s international isolation, particularly in the Global South. It seemed like relief that no call to stop the war had been issued outweighed the implication that the war could have a genocidal component.

The fact that South Africa’s appeal to The Hague focused on the “crime of crimes” and not on low-level, easily provable war crimes or crimes against humanity may have inadvertently reinforced the feeling among the majority of Israel’s population that they had “gotten away with it” in court.

Battle Cries between Commercial Breaks

This sort of analysis and commentary on 26 January exemplifies the detachment of conservative and liberal Israeli debates on the war in Gaza from the rest of the world. Since the massacre perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October, Israeli media has embraced a permanent state of wall-to-wall war coverage. The blue and white striped banner with the motto Yachad Nenatze’ach (“Together We Will Win”) appears every few minutes. No commercial break passes without mentioning the war and national unity.

Much like the US, Israel is a country where news programmes are intended less to inform than to provide hours of entertainment, regularly blurring the lines between news, analysis, and opinion. TV features an almost continuous stream of panels of so-called experts from the military, politics, academia, and relatives of Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip, discussing the war and domestic political chaos from an almost exclusively pro-war, Jewish-Israeli perspective. The only differences in opinion focus on the evaluation of government actions and the —apparently obvious — question of whether freeing the hostages from Hamas or the organization’s “total destruction” should be the army and government’s primary goal.

It is very rare that viewers of these long-running programmes hear opinions opposing the war and its unimaginable consequences for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The result of this news cycle is a self-perpetuating, isolationist discourse that is almost completely removed from the catastrophe taking place just 70 kilometres south of Tel Aviv. Israeli news is sometimes diametrically opposed to reporting from other parts of the world, and inescapable for most (Jewish) Israelis.

It is very rare that viewers of these long-running programmes hear opinions opposing the war and its unimaginable consequences for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who face increasing repression and a campaign of intimidation since 7 October, are rarely given a chance to speak.

Left-wing Palestinian members of the Knesset like Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi no longer accept invitations from television studios because of their programming and the resulting climate it creates. When people like Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, who opposes the war and occupation, do venture into the studio, they are usually given less speaking time than other guests. If their statements are too threatening to the pro-war consensus, the moderator usually intervenes.

The Left’s Lonely Fight for an Alternative

Israel’s already marginalized Left and anti-war and peace camps wage a lonely battle for a progressive perspective rooted in peace and fair partnerships. The Left faces an overwhelmingly pro-war public, a spike in dehumanizing public discourse about Palestinians and anti-war protesters, and growing police harassment of anti-war protests. Activists in Israel who campaign against the war, for a ceasefire, or for an equal partnership between Jews and Palestinians face open hostility on social media and have to think carefully about what statements they make, given the extremely nationalist climate and most extreme right-wing extremist government in the country’s history.

Nonetheless, even and especially in these difficult times, solidarity initiatives and alliances show that there are still people who believe in a common, socially just, egalitarian future for all people from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. For several weeks now, demonstrations against Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, the escalating settler violence in the West Bank, for the immediate release of Israeli hostages (including by prisoner exchange), and for a political solution to the conflict with Palestine have been taking place every Saturday evening in major cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.

These demonstrations are supported by Israeli civil society organizations who recently published a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire. In early February, a conference by the Jewish-Palestinian grassroots movement Standing Together was held in Haifa. More than 1,000 people came together at the congress centre to discuss strategies for building a Jewish-Palestinian mass movement in Israel based on the principles of social and climate justice.

Despite the importance of various local and grassroots organizations and movements, the Israeli Left is fundamentally dependent on political support and practical solidarity from the international Left.

These organizations, which existed prior to 7 October, may soon have an impact on daily politics. Municipal elections on 27 February, postponed several times due to the war, provided a platform for Jewish-Palestinian electoral lists made up of civil society organizations and parties. In Tel Aviv–Jaffa, for example, Amir Badran was the first Palestinian Israeli citizen to run for mayor in the city’s history. Badran is part of a left-wing electoral list consisting of the left-socialist Hadash, the Ir Sgula (Purple City) initiative, which focuses on social justice and Jewish-Palestinian partnership, and the Green List. The list was elected to the Tel Aviv–Jaffa City Council as the fourth-largest group, a respectable success despite low voter turnout and the current situation, which is contributing to further tension between Jewish and Palestinian citizens.

Despite the importance of various local and grassroots organizations and movements, the Israeli Left is fundamentally dependent on political support and practical solidarity from the international Left — provided that the international Left recognizes these actors’ domestic challenges and actively seeks cooperation with those who want to change the terrible situation in the country from within.

Given the ongoing Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, it is understandable that the focus of international protests is on mobilizing against this injustice. At the same time, it is particularly important in this asymmetrical conflict to support allies on the Israeli side who oppose the oppression and war crimes perpetrated in their name. The fact that, for political and strategic reasons, resistance from within Israel must take a different mode than international resistance should not be a reason to dismiss the domestic opposition as not radical enough and therefore not worthy of support.

However, in addition to criticism of the historical and current oppression of the Palestinian people, such support would require a will to recognize the complex realities within Israel and to think beyond the binary scheme of colonizer and colonized. Any solution that is based on the premise of the equality for all people in Israel and Palestine and that opposes the prevailing logic of militarism and nihilism also requires solidarity with people and organizations within Israel who, against all odds, continue to uphold this idea.

An earlier vision of this article first appeared in analyse & kritik. Translated by Eve Richens and Anna Dinwoodie for Gegensatz Translation Collective.