ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Reservist group pushes for unity government, new elections, after 2023 divisions

Signed by over 1,300 demobilized reservists, Tikkun 2024 manifesto insists only a government of all the Zionist factions ‘will be able to ‘defeat the enemy’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Israeli Infantry reservists seen during light arms training in the northern Golan Heights before heading south to the Gaza Strip on October 8, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Israeli Infantry reservists seen during light arms training in the northern Golan Heights before heading south to the Gaza Strip on October 8, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

An organization claiming to represent thousands of IDF reservists from across the political spectrum has begun lobbying for the formation of a broad unity government, to be followed by new elections handing the government to a wide-tent coalition, as a way of stemming political divisiveness.

In a letter signed by over 1,300 recently demobilized reservists, the activist group Tikkun 2024 urged lawmakers to sign onto their manifesto demanding that “all Zionist parties” reject “the culture of boycotts” and join the coalition until new elections can be held later this year.

“We fought for our home, on the front and in the rear, and together we went through one of the most challenging times the country has ever known,” the manifesto declares, insisting that all current lawmakers “take personal responsibility for the extremism in the discourse over the past year.”

“There is only one camp and that is the Israeli camp,” it continued, calling for the expansion of the limited security cabinet and asserting that only a government of all the Zionist factions “will be able to reunite the people, defeat the enemy, return the hostages and restore full security to all the citizens of Israel.”

Following new elections, a broad government consisting “at its core” of “the three major parties chosen from the right, left and center of the political map” must take power and establish a state commission of inquiry “to investigate the security, political and public systems going back at least a decade,” with findings published within half a year of its inception, Tikkun 2024 stated.

The organization, whose funding is unclear, did not call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation, despite his rapidly cratering popularity.

The group’s co-founder is listed as Matan Yaffe, a social entrepreneur who previously started an organization devoted to Bedouin empowerment in Israel’s Negev. In November, Yaffe briefly made headlines when he tweeted that morale among reservists was rapidly waning, blaming a lack of leadership and Netanyahu in particular.

“Even if we beat Hamas, and I’m sure we will, it won’t be thanks to the zeroes in power,” he tweeted at the time, earning a public rebuke from the IDF.

Israeli police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators blocking a road during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Jerusalem, July 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The current government replaced a broad but short-lived coalition of right, centrist and left-wing parties, including the Islamist Ra’am, which appears to dovetail with Tukkin 2024’s vision. Over much of 2023, Netanyahu’s right-wing government pursued an agenda aimed at radically reshaping the judiciary, sparking unprecedented public protests, widespread societal division, and concern over Israel remaining a democracy.

A Channel 12 poll published on Sunday indicated that the current opposition, along with Benny Gantz’s National Unity party (previously in the opposition but now a member of the emergency government), could secure 75 of the Knesset’s 120 seats if elections were held today, with the bloc loyal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu far behind at 45.

Following a meeting with representatives of the group, right-wing MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism), one of the architects of the government’s controversial judicial overhaul, tweeted that their plan was “interesting” and that while he saw some of its ideas as mistaken, “there are parts of it that I certainly support.”

Following the meeting, Yaffe bragged that it was the only group that knew how to bring together Rothman and Shikma Bressler, one of the leaders of last year’s anti-government protests, who has also met with the group.

He said they had discussed “how to get Israel out of the political mud.”

Representatives also met with Likud minister Miki Zohar and far-right MK Zvi Succot of the Religious Zionism party. It was unclear if they had met with any lawmakers from the center or left of the political spectrum.

The group pledged on social media to “continue to act and meet with leaders and politicians, from the right and the left, in order to prevent the deterioration of Israeli society and chart a path for a broad reform government that will gain the trust of the public.”

The post was retweeted by former prime minister Naftali Bennett, who also met with the group.

Following Hamas’s attack on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis were killed and more than 240 taken hostage in Gaza, Benny Gantz’s National Unity party joined the government but many parties have remained in opposition and cracks have begun to form in the coalition over the last four months of war.

Anti-government protests largely faded in the immediate aftermath of the shock attack, but confidence in the government has steadily faded in recent months, with polls showing only a small minority backing the current government remaining in power once fighting ends.

Opposition parties have brought several no-confidence motions against Netanyahu in the Knesset while hardliners in the coalition have indicated that they could bring down the government if it agrees to a recently proposed hostage deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting alongside Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs (left of Netanyahu) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (to Netanyahu’s right) at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

Tensions within Netanyahu’s cabinet have risen to the point where the prime minister has declared that cabinet members and high ranking officials attending discussions of national security issues should be compelled to undergo lie detector tests as a way of blocking leaks to the press.

Since the outbreak of hostilities, the IDF has called up a total of 287,000 reservists, marking the largest-ever call-up of reservists in Israel’s history. Many of them have already been released from duty, but there are wide expectations that some of those will be called back up as fighting persists in Gaza and war looms on the northern border.

While Tikkun 2024 has called for national unity, another group of reservists recently launched a protest movement demanding a firmer hand against Hamas and permanent occupation of some land in Gaza — reflecting growing frustration on the Israeli right with Jerusalem’s perceived failure to deliver on the initial stated goal for the war: dismantling the Hamas terror group and toppling the regime that it has built since its 2007 takeover of Gaza.

At the same time, opposition parties have appeared to back calls for Israel to agree to a deal that would pause fighting to allow for hostages to be freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, even if it would leave Hamas intact.

Canaan Lidor and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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