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Roving Periscope: For the first time since 1948, Israel fights an existential crisis

Roving Periscope: For the first time since 1948, Israel fights an existential crisis

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: In a never-before situation, Israel, and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are firing on all cylinders—both within and without. The Jewish state has never been through such an existential crisis, nor have so many Jews demanded their current PM’s resignation amid a raging war.

Like Russian President Vladimir Putin, he is now trying to find an ‘honorable’ exit from the seemingly endless and zero-sum war he started.

While the Netanyahu government faces collapse after its exemptions to the ultra-orthodox Jews triggered nationwide anger, the war against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip is reaching nowhere even after nearly six months of death and destruction. Around 33,000 people on both sides have died, including some 1,800 Israelis, of whom 600 are soldiers.

If anything, Netanyahu has lost friends within and without Israel—the only exception so far being the US. To shore up support, his parliament even gave him sweeping powers to curb the media.

Millions of Israelis gathered outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest-ever anti-government demonstration since the country went to war on October 7, 2023, following a Hamas invasion. The demonstrators demanded that the government reach a deal with Hamas to free dozens of hostages still held by it in Gaza and to hold early elections in the Jewish state.

Besides, the demonstrators protested against the ‘undue’ exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from military service, something they had protested against last year as well. Many Israelis now see Netanyahu not as a tough leader but as a liability and obstacle to peace.

A buffeted Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before undergoing hernia surgery on Sunday, said calling new elections could paralyze Israel for six to eight months and complicate the hostage talks. He also repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of the territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing fighting elsewhere. “There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said.

Amid this turmoil, the Israeli parliament passed a bill on Monday giving top ministers the authority to bar from Israel the broadcasts of Arab news channel “Al Jazeera” — a step Netanyahu is poised to take, the media reported.

This law, which passed by 70 votes to 10, carries the authority to ban the broadcast of content from foreign channels but also allows the closing of their offices in Israel.

Netanyahu has vowed to take “immediate action” to shut down Al Jazeera in Israel once the law passes.

Israel claimed in January that an Al Jazeera staff journalist and a freelancer killed in an air strike in Gaza were “terror operatives.”
In February, it said another journalist for the channel, wounded in a separate strike, was a “deputy company commander” with Hamas.
Israeli troops have been fighting against Hamas in Gaza since October.

Al Jazeera has fiercely denied the accusations and accused Israel of systematically targeting its employees in the Gaza Strip.
The bill permitting officials to stop foreign media deemed to harm national security had already passed its first parliamentary hurdle last month.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said he asked “to make sure that the law to close Al Jazeera will be approved this evening” in the Knesset.


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