Will Gaza be safer if Netanyahu quit as Israel PM? Likely not, say analysts

Much of the West’s criticism of Israel has focused on Netanyahu, but experts say his approach to the war has broader support.

People hold Israeli flags during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Israeli flags at a demonstration as Netanyahu's coalition government presses on with its judicial changes, Tel Aviv, March 11, 2023. It is a mistake to conflate Israeli people's concerns for their own democratic freedoms with caring for Palestinian lives, Mairav Zonszein tells Al Jazeera [Nir Elias/Reuters]

As Israel’s war on Gaza drags on, criticism appears to be centring on embattled Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, a man indicted on multiple corruption charges, with thousands of protesters in the streets, demanding his departure.

However, discontent over Netanyahu and the extreme-right provocateurs in his government should not be confused with a dampening of popular support for the war being waged to punish Gaza for a Hamas-led attack on October 7 and, ostensibly, to secure the release of the remaining captives taken from Israel that day, say analysts.

I think, right now, Israeli society is somewhere between fascism and Nazism and no one seems to have noticed.

by Haim Bresheeth, an Israeli scholar and son of Holocaust victims

Observers say that while Netanyahu’s critics may take issue with him as an individual, his war objectives still enjoy the support of a society that is becoming increasingly right-wing, ultra-religious and believing that Palestinians are somehow “less” than they are.

“We have people walking around with automatic weapons, and simply saying that you were afraid of a Palestinian gives you the legal justification to shoot them,” Haim Bresheeth, author of Introducing the Holocaust: A Graphic Guide and a professor of film studies at SOAS, said from London.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the war in Gaza is like ‘fighting human animals’ [File: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters]

Political evolution

“I think, right now, Israeli society is somewhere between fascism and Nazism and no one seems to have noticed,” Bresheeth, who left Israel in the 1970s and whose parents were both killed at Auschwitz, said.

A January poll by Israel Hayom found an overwhelming majority of those polled (81.5 percent) supported the idea that the war in Gaza remained the best means of securing the captives’ release.

Moreover, before the recent International Court of Justice ruling that ordered Israel to allow more aid into Gaza to avert famine, a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) showed a marked reluctance among Israelis to increase aid deliveries to Gaza.

“Two trends have been under way for the last 20 years or so,” Mairav Zonszein, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group said from Tel Aviv.

“Israeli society, especially the young, has become much more right-wing, the polls bear that out … we’ve seen support for ultra-Orthodox and far-right politics grow, eventually entering, not just the government, but the courts, the army and the education system,” she said.

Israel’s current cabinet, which includes the far-right Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted of incitement and support for terrorism in 2007, and Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the hardline Religious Zionist Party, has a mandate that could sustain it until 2026.

“People do complain about the presence of the far right and ultra-Orthodox in power, especially liberals. However, it’s important that we don’t conflate those objections, which often refer to their own political freedoms, with concern for Palestinian lives,” Zonszein continued.


International criticism of Israel’s assault on Gaza has done little to dent the domestic assumptions forged by decades of a political and media narrative about the country’s “regional isolation”.

After complaining of being victimised by the United Nations for years, and accusing the main UN humanitarian agency in Gaza of being infiltrated by the Palestinian group Hamas, Israeli ministers were quick to reject the Security Council’s late March demand for a ceasefire.

Other international criticisms – such as the report by UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese, which found that Israel is engaged in three of the five acts of genocide specified in the 1948 convention – were dismissed as anti-Semetic by Israel’s political and media establishment, as well as its allies in the US.

Few would dispute that Netanyahu has not encouraged and profited from the growth of the ultra-religious and extreme right, but the suggestion that the suffering in Gaza would be any less without him is risible, Zonszein said.

Before the October attack, Israel had been sure of its position as an untouchable regional superpower and confident that leading Arab states were ready to overlook its expanding settlements and normalise relations, she continued.

Israeli police spray protesters with water as they block a road during a gathering by relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants, in front of the Defense Ministry in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv
Israeli police spray protesters with water as they call for the release of Israeli captives held in Gaza since the October 7 attack, in front of the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, on March 30 [Jack Guez/AFP]

October 7 upended those assumptions, delivering a gut punch to the Israeli sense of self from which the state was still convulsing.

“October 7th cut across Israeli society, from the soldiers documenting their war crimes on TikTok to the politicians directing them.

“Israeli society has for years been geared to see the Palestinians as the enemy,” Zonszein continued. “It’s convenient to blame Netanyahu, nothing more. Others would take a similar approach. Where Gaza is concerned, Netanyahu represents the consensus.”

The army

More than 33,000 people have died in Gaza and close to 76,000 more have been injured in Israeli attacks.

Within the enclave, accounts of the torture of civilians and UN workers are being shared, while accusations of the Israeli army killing starving people seeking food have become commonplace.

“The Israeli army was taken over by the extreme right since around 2000,” Bresheeth, whose book, An Army Like No Other, argues that the army both forged and reflects Israel’s cultural and political identity.

“Right-wing recruits entered the army from the lower ranks before gradually earning promotion. By around 2008, maybe 2009, they had essentially become the army,” he said.

“Don’t misunderstand me, this wasn’t exactly a liberal organisation before, it has always been an extremely nationalist body.

“After all, this is the same army that oversaw the Nakba [the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948], as well as the wars that followed. However, this is something new.”

Israelis block the entrance to UNWRA, the main U.N. agency providing aid in the Gaza Strip, during a protest in Jerusalem, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. The UNRWA agency is reeling from allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Israelis protest, blocking the entrance to UNWRA, the UN agency providing aid in Gaza, in Jerusalem, on March 20. Israel alleges 12 of UNRWA’s Gaza staff participated in the October 7 attacks [Ohad Zwigenberg/AP Photo]

Before the current war on Gaza, the reach of the ultranationalist and religious had hit a wall, Israeli analyst Nimrod Flaschenberg said of the nationalist fervour Israel discovered in the conflict.

“The extreme right has been advancing its hold on the state for many years. Since the war, the Israeli public is politically rejecting Netanyahu’s path, but also wholeheartedly accepts the policy of the right – namely the war of destruction being waged in Gaza,” he told Al Jazeera from Berlin, where he is based.

What may happen next in the war is the subject of intense speculation.

While leaders in the West, not least US President Joe Biden, increasingly centre their criticism on Netanyahu, it is becoming clear that his leadership speaks more to effect than cause.

Source: Al Jazeera