Opinion: The real war Netanyahu and Hamas are waging is against their own people

It’s time to usher in a new generation of leaders.

(Fatima Shbair | The Associated Press) Palestinians buy food at a local market next to a destroyed residential building by the Israeli airstrikes, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity has plummeted since the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7. Yet despite calls for his resignation in Israel and across the globe, Netanyahu continues to reject calls for early elections.

As with other tyrants across the Middle East, Netanyahu is doubling down on his record of corruption and contempt for justice and democracy at home. Rather than bring the hostage crisis with Hamas and the war in Gaza to an end, Netanyahu is exacerbating the hostage crisis and prolonging the war, no matter what the cost of his failed policies to Israel’s security, legitimacy and standing, let alone regional stability and United States interests.

Fortunately, Netanyahu’s show is fooling no one. Ninety-four percent of the Israeli population believe that Netanyahu is at least partially to blame for the border attacks in southern Israel that led to the killing of over 1,200 people. According to former prime minister Ehud Barak, “All the polling shows that 80% of adults, including a majority of his own party, see Netanyahu as the man responsible for this whole failure. About half expected him to resign immediately after Oct. 7. On that day, Netanyahu totally lost the trust of the public.”

In a poll released in January, more than 50% of Israelis polled said that Netanyahu’s personal interests were the prime catalyst driving the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Israel’s top political and security brass have exposed the political calculus binding Netanyahu to empower Hamas before Oct. 7. As Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency put it, prior to Oct. 7, there was “a complete lack of understanding about what Hamas actually is. It was thought that it could probably be managed. As a result, we also strengthened it and transferred funds to it. This is undoubtedly a policy that Benjamin Netanyahu led. The heads of the Shin Bet resisted all the way and warned the political echelon.”

In other words, it was Netanyahu who allowed suitcases of Qatari cash to enter Gaza since 2018. He dismissed reports about the Hamas threat by treating it as a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority, a spoiler in the negotiations over a Palestinian state.

The threat of Netanyahu’s cabinet — the most right wing in Israel’s history — cannot be ignored. Last year, Netanyahu appointed Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister and Bezalel Smotrich as finance minister. Barak compared the members of the Israeli cabinet to the Proud Boys, describing them as “two racist, messianic guys” with “a very strong leverage over Bibi.”

What is more ominous is the price of Netanyahu’s faustian bargain with a messianic right wing.

“Until now,” Barak said, “our conflict with the Palestinians was basically political and territorial — they want to turn it into a major religious war between Israel and Islam.”

Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S., echoed the Israeli public’s mistrust, stating that “Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel.” Schumer added that: “He has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows, Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

As Barak put it, “If Bibi continues to reject [an exit plan] we will find ourselves sinking into the Gaza mud for years to come.”

In this the holy month of Ramadan, Jews and Muslims do not need to look far to understand the bitter harvest of such identity politics. As with the Iranian hostage crisis, so too with the current hostage crisis, the leaders of Hamas — as well as Netanyahu and his right wing cabinet — are following in the footsteps of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Instead of doing everything in their power to resolve the hostage crisis, broker a ceasefire and restore peace and security, they are gambling with the life of innocents in pursuit of foul fantasies that have no grounding in faith, in rationality or humanity.

The solution that extremists Netanyahu and Hamas offer the world is more war, more sorrow, more trauma and more tears. Their vision for the future is not democratic, it is fundamentalist--establishing theocracies that turn the Abrahamic religions into sectarian instruments for celebrating war and conquering the state, with revenge as currency and civilians as subjects — not citizens.

The real war Netanyahu and Hamas are waging is against their own people, with the hostage crisis and Gaza war as stages for coups that promise to turn Israeli and Palestinian citizens into permanent hostages of their political leaders. Instead of turning Israel and Palestine into carbon copies of the Islamic State in Iran, it’s time to usher in a new generation of leaders. For the vast majority of Muslims, Jews and Christians in Utah and beyond, religion is not about celebrating death in the crucible of the state but about worshiping and witnessing the sanctity of life, with the Holy land as the cradle that binds all our faces and faiths to peace.

The children of Israel and Palestine, and one might add, Iran and America, deserve no less.

(Photo courtesy of Khosrow B. Semnani) Khosrow B. Semnani

Khosrow B. Semnani, an Iranian-American industrialist and philanthropist, is the author of the “Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble.”

(Photo courtesy of Rabbi Samuel L. Spector) Rabbi Samuel L. Spector

Rabbi Samuel L. Spector is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City.

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