Pressure Is Building on Netanyahu From All Sides

As the war between Israel and Hamas approaches the six-month mark, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is confronting rising pressure on multiple fronts, at home and abroad.

He has encountered resistance from protesters, relatives of hostages held by militants in Gaza, the international community, and elements of his own governing coalition, as criticism mounts over his prosecution of the war against Hamas.

“He’s facing a pile-on,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, a political scientist based in Tel Aviv. “But he’s responding with maximum possible defiance and minimum possible decision-making.”

Although many Israelis have refrained from protesting against the government during the war, thousands of Israelis on Sunday thronged streets in Jerusalem beside the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, to call for early elections, in one of the most significant demonstrations against Mr. Netanyahu’s government since the war began in October.

Mr. Netanyahu has managed to serve longer than any prime minister in Israel’s history in part because of his political savvy. But his popularity was already in decline before the war, over a judicial overhaul that prompted some of the biggest protests in Israel’s history. It suffered another heavy blow when the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas revealed serious security failings.

He has fired back at people calling for elections, arguing they would paralyze the country for at least six months and prevent it from achieving its aims in the war, which he has said includes a “complete victory” over Hamas.

In recent weeks, some relatives of hostages have expressed dismay at Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of indirect negotiations with Hamas aimed at achieving the release their loved ones and a cease-fire. The prime minister, they so, is so determined to pursue the destruction of Hamas that he might do it at the expense of the hostages.

“You are torpedoing the deal,” Einav Zangauker, the mother of a hostage, told a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday. “You failed on Oct. 7 and you are failing today.”

As if to underline his troubles, Mr. Netanyahu was hospitalized on Sunday to undergo hernia surgery.

He has said that Hamas was sticking to unrealistic demands, and that those who think he hasn’t been doing enough to secure the release of the hostages were wrong.

Mr. Netanyahu has also faced pushback abroad over his policies, especially those that have led to the enormous civilian death toll and destruction.

In February, President Biden called Israel’s military operations “over the top” and said the suffering of innocent civilians has “got to stop.” Several world leaders have also warned Israel against a planned ground offensive into Rafah, the southern Gaza city where most of the enclave’s population has sought refuge, and the Biden administration has said a major operation there would be a mistake.

The U.S. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the highest-ranking elected Jewish official in the United States, went further than any senior American leader in publicly rebuking Mr. Netanyahu, delivering a scathing speech in mid-March that accused him of letting his political survival supersede “the best interests of Israel” and of being “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza.”

Within his government, Mr. Netanyahu has been dealing with divisions over whether ultra-Orthodox Jews should retain their longstanding exemption from military service.

An unwieldy right-wing alliance of secular and ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, the coalition’s members are divided about whether the state should continue to allow young ultra-Orthodox men to study at religious seminaries instead of serving in the military, as most other Jewish Israelis do.

If the government abolishes the exemption, it risks a walkout from the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers; if it lets the exemption stand, the secular members could withdraw. Either way, the coalition could collapse, forcing elections.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting to this article.

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