Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

The organization of the families of the hostages has decided to change strategies, linking its campaign to bring the hostages home to the campaign for “elections now.” Is the fight to get the hostages home entering a new phase?

This is a segment from The “Sidelocks & Sidearms?” Edition.


And now it is time for our first discussion.

So Allison, a change in strategy? – A change in strategy and a change in atmosphere, I think.

The vigil at the Square of the Kidnapped, Hostage Square, this past Saturday night, was much like the two dozen vigils on the two dozen Saturday nights that came before it, until all of a sudden, it wasn’t.

The vigil started, as it always did, with speeches by relatives and loved ones of hostages held, some killed in Gaza.

And then one said, “I am Shira, the mother of Liri al-Bagh, “who for the last 175 days, or 4,222 hours, “has heard Liri screaming, ‘Ima, help me!

“He’s hurting me!'”

I say it like that, but she really shouted, she screamed.

And then she said, “I can’t shut my eyes to sleep “because of the thoughts and the fear “of what Liri and the rest of the hostages “are going through.”

But for all that was familiar from the first moments of the vigil, you could feel that something had shifted, something had changed.

For one thing, the speakers this week attacked Prime Minister Netanyahu with more determination and anger than in the past.

Ayala Maayan Metzger, a neonatologist whose 75-year-old diabetic father-in-law, Yoram Metzger, was kidnapped from Nahal Oze while recovering from a broken hip, said, “Benjamin Netanyahu has undermined every deal “that would bring back the hostages.

“We have all seen how he delays cabinet meetings “and hardens positions and then prevents “the negotiating delegation from traveling to negotiate “or narrows their mandate to negotiate.

“We have seen how his personal political interests “again and again keep him from making decisions “that would free the hostages.”

Enav Zenkaker, whose 24-year-old son, Matan, was kidnapped from his home near Oze, said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu, “after you abandoned our family members “and after 176 days in which you did not bring a deal “and because you are dedicated to torpedoing a deal, “we understand that you are the barrier to reaching a deal.”

Finally, Eli Al-Bagh, Liri’s father and Shira’s husband, got on the microphone and said, “This is the last Shabbat “when we will be here at hostage square.

“We will not meet here again.

“We are shutting off the lights in the square.

“Citizens of Israel, we ask you now, “with a shout of outrage and despair, “come with us into the streets “to get our children back home.”

Many in the crowd of 10,000s of people stood shocked, unsure of what to do next, until Eli Al-Bagh said, “The half of the crowd on the east, “you march to Begin Street.

“Half of the crowd on the west, you march to Dizengoff.”

And that is what the crowd did, clogging city streets, nodding traffic in an impromptu march, unapproved by police, through the center of Tel Aviv on a bustling Saturday night.

When they got to Begin Street, hundreds of demonstrators continued to the Ayalon Highway, some of them lighting bonfires on the road, bringing cars and trucks to a halt, and bringing out the police in force.

By the end of the evening, many dozen demonstrators were detained or arrested.

What happened on Saturday night was the first sign most of us got of a big change in strategy of the families and loved ones of the hostages, in trying to cajole and pressure the government into making to Hamas whatever concessions need to be made in order to secure the quick release of the hostages.

Until now, for most of the six months, the group has carefully avoided taking a position for or against the sitting government, always emphasizing that they include people who support the prime minister and his coalition, and people who oppose the prime minister and his coalition, and that their struggle has nothing to do with what parties the people prosecuting the war come from.

Now, for the first time, people speaking for the group were saying that Prime Minister Netanyahu has got to go.

And that message was emphasized in recent days in demonstrations in the streets of Jerusalem as well.

So this matters for any number of reasons.

For one thing, until now, there have been two protest movements.

Many people, especially over the past month or two, have supported both movements at once, but their leaders were careful to keep one distinct from the other.

One protest movement aimed, of course, to get the government to free the hostages.

The other, an offspring of the Kaplan demonstrations against the judicial overhaul, which was itself an offspring of the Balfour demonstrations against Benjamin Netanyahu, demanded immediate elections.

Now it seems as though the two protest movements have somehow collapsed into each other and merged, or at least the Venn diagram has gotten very, very, very similar.

On Sunday, the afternoon after the last vigil at the hostage square, a huge three-day demonstration began outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, drawing tens of thousands of protesters with the dual aim of bringing home the hostages and immediately scheduling new elections.

Of course, this change in strategy has been controversial, even among the active families and loved ones of the hostages, some of whom were quick to dissociate themselves from the decision and from the group that, until Saturday, they took to represent them.

Advocates of the new, more combative approach of the group admit that this is a sad and regrettable result of the new strategy, but most said their first responsibility is to the hostages, the old approach has failed for six tragic months, and a more radical approach is necessary.

So, guys, Don, what do you think?

What should we think of this change of strategy and the merging of the struggle to bring back the hostages with the struggle to replace Prime Minister Netanyahu and his coalition? – Well, I think it’s already had an impact.

Benny Gantz called for elections in September, and Matan Kahane from Gantz’s party said this morning on the radio that the main reason they’re actually staying in the government is to make a hostage deal happen and hopes for a deal would evaporate if they left.

So I think you can draw a direct line to the big demonstrations.

I was at the first one at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Sunday and see that it’s already affecting the internal dynamics of the politics.

But I want to go back to a step about why there were two different types of rallies or demonstrations up till now.

You know, as you said, the hostage families, their vigils, and the supporters who came out with them were careful not to be challenging the government’s legitimacy, but rather making a less or non-political statement of empathy and support for the families.

Again, not to be seen as going against a sitting government during wartime, which I think poll after poll has shown that the majority of Israelis don’t think it’s the right time for protests, won’t be the right time until after the war ends or is somehow resolved.

But if we look at it from the other side, there was a different strategy going on there as well.

The protest really picked up, I think, in recent weeks, and it was kind of keeping that protest flicker alive, but on a low flame up until now, up until this very large protest that began first Saturday night and then on Sunday and the rest of the week around the Knesset, with most Israelis not quite ready to come out up until now, but there being an implicit understanding, which again was reflected in poll after poll, that the minute the war was over, we should go to elections and hold our horrific leadership accountable and replace them.

And if the government wouldn’t resign voluntarily, then there would be massive demonstrations.

And the hope was that those massive demonstrations would bring out a much broader part of the population, not the same camp that was in the democracy protests for nine months, but many members of the nationalist camp, the pro-democracy camp center, soft right, even elements of the right, and of course, tens of thousands of reserve soldiers like Micha, who’ve been shouldering the burden for the entire nation for the past six months.

So that was one of the reasons to not merge these protests up to now, was to avoid scaring off those nationalists and centrists so that when the day came, they would actually join a much larger protest.

Now, I’ll just say another player entered the mix in the past week, which is the Hizd Edrut, the nation’s largest labor union, when its head, Arnon Bar-David, called on Netanyahu to schedule new elections for February 2025.

Again, this is a crucial development.

He himself is a Likudnik and up until now, Netanyahu loyalist.

So again, new voices coming in, calling for elections.

I think the dynamics have changed.

Is this the right strategy?

You know, everyone’s conflicted about it.

We don’t know yet, but it seems to be having an impact. – There are two things about the families and friends of the hostages that are, I think, axiomatically true and they conflict with one another.

And the one is you can’t criticize any decision that they make.

I feel as though I ought not criticize.

I don’t have the standing to criticize.

These are people who are trying to get back their fathers or their daughters or sons and, or husbands or wives, and who am I to tell them how best to do that?

Who am I to tell them how to express themselves?

So that’s one thing.

But then the other thing is that it’s also like axiomatically true that it can’t possibly be that just this group of people uniquely, solely, knows what’s best for the country.

You know that these decisions have to be broader with all sorts of things taken into account.

And it’s always hard to figure out how to balance those two things.

But when I was standing in the crowd, and I was shocked when he said, “We’re turning out the lights.

We’re not going to be here anymore.”

I literally didn’t know what he was telling me.

And I think a lot of people were that way.

And then I was sad to absorb that fact.

I was sad to absorb that right now, what he was telling me was that it was my job to keep cars from managing to get across Ibbing Virol, which we did for a long time.

And people were honking and they were mad at us.

And I never liked doing that.

But he had told me to do it.

And he has a daughter who has been in Gaza for six months.

And so I did it.

All of this makes me sad.

All of this makes me sad, and including what went on in the first three days of the week in Jerusalem, because I feel like I don’t have the stomach personally, and I’m not at all convinced it’s a good thing for the country to topple ourselves back into what it was like before October 6th of being so divided, and maybe that won’t happen.

And maybe, and I don’t, and maybe, maybe I want elections to happen as soon as possible.

And so, and maybe this will cause it, and maybe it will be for the best.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I have no idea what the right thing is.

And my reaction to this is just that after feeling night, Saturday night after Saturday night, this incredible feeling of solidarity on those streets in front of the museum, it is sad to me that I will not be able to feel that again around this issue over which everyone does agree, and suddenly it’s making itself conflictual again.

Does that mean it’s a bad decision?

I can’t say.

I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a sad decision for me.

Allison, what do you think? – Well, you felt solidarity, but solidarity hasn’t done anything about this never-ending war ever ending, and it hasn’t done anything about the hostages.

So, you know, in the whole definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, should we continue to keep doing the same thing over and over again, as good as it may feel to be united, if it’s not actually, you know, moving the needle one way or the other.

So that’s the argument against it, theoretically.

Just a practical point, this whole, you know, argument of we have to stay united, we have to have solidarity during the war, we have to postpone political debate and campaign and elections until after the war, I think happened in a situation where we felt like there was going to be an after the war, that, you know, this could go on for X amount of months, but there would be some sort of end in sight.

And I think as we see no sign of Netanyahu wanting this thing to end, I mean, he seems to be trying to extend it by, you know, we have to invade Rafah, but we’re not gonna do it right now and we have to negotiate for the hostages, but let’s keep this delegation back.

It all seems like, you know, delaying tactics and stretching on and on.

So I think that is a huge factor in people saying like, okay, you know, how long can we postpone our solidarity rally and not call for a change in government until after the war, when the war doesn’t seem like it’s ever gonna end, right? – And, you know, to go along with the, you know, alongside the solidarity were calls to not be engaged in politicking, but Netanyahu and the poison machine didn’t stop for one second since October 8th, they’ve been engaged in politicking.

And Israel’s standing in the world is disastrous right now.

It seems like Netanyahu is going out of his way to ruin relations with the United States, our most important ally, President Biden, the best president for Israel that there’s ever been, you know, so I think people’s distrust outside of his hardcore camp, which has actually shown a little bit of increase in support in the last couple of weeks, there’s the distrust in the government as opposed to the Tzahal, where there’s the enormous sense of trust is growing.

And, you know, the hostage families, you know, again, are desperate because we’re hearing more stories of how the hostages are abused or sexually abused and more and more of assuming more are disappearing, you know, or being murdered. – And I’m not saying that any of that is wrong.

You both might be right about absolutely all of that.

I’m saying I don’t feel like I know how to judge.

But one thing that does seem to me to be fairly certain is that this path also doesn’t lead to anywhere, by the way, because say we do have elections in February, I don’t think it will happen, but say we do, and say a new government is formed by next May, 14 months from now, and say that they sit down and start to strategize and come up with some, you know, really powerful strategy in July, you know, 18 months from now, that’s a very long time.

And so the answer can’t be, the answer can’t be that.

I mean, the answer can be that it’s inconsistent with the 134 hostages, however many of them are alive, remaining alive. – The answer is to make a hostage deal.

The answer is to follow Gantz and Eisenkatz’s line and not Netanyahu and Ben-Gurion’s line. – Right, but that doesn’t come through elections. – No, no, but look, no one actually thinks there’s gonna be elections right now.

I mean, Gantz is calling for September, Arnon Bardevit calling for next February.

I agree with you, this is kicking that can down the road.

Again, there’s no rule that says we have to have a normal election season.

You could say we’re gonna have elections 30 days from now, and you know, we’ll have one week of campaigning.

You know, again, you could find a way to do this if the country decided it wanted to do that, or if the government imploded from within, that’s connected to our next topic.

But you know, again, I think people are just fed up with what’s happening and don’t trust our leaders.

And to be, you know– – Understandably. – And that’s a big problem because it could be that whatever Hamas is putting on the table as a deal is completely nuts and unreasonable and something that we cannot absolutely agree to, and that the hostage families are wrong, we can’t agree to, you know, whatever it is that they want us to do.

But the problem is we can’t trust the man who’s negotiating for us to be communicating to us realistically, whether that’s possible or not, and whether he actually has the hostage’s best interest in mind or his own, and that’s a problem. – Or his political partners who we don’t trust either.

I mean, that’s the problem.

There’s no one at the top, aside from Constantin Eisenkot and maybe Galen, who we actually have faith in.

And even if we, okay, no, we don’t have this actual, you know, election tomorrow and a new government next week, at least we’re putting enough pressure on this government, you know, if not to quote unquote, do the right thing and exactly what we want.

When we hear some of the nutso things that they are moving towards, you know, some mass expulsion from Gaza or resettling Gaza or reoccupying Gaza, at least, hopefully, this political pressure could forestall something terrible that they wanna do, just like it forestalled the judicial overhaul. – Or looking for other allies and sources of weapons, besides the United States.

I mean, they’re saying some crazy stuff. – So at least we could put– – Again, I’m not disagreeing.

I just don’t see any way that this, that the demand for immediate elections gets us there, but I recognize I could be wrong. – Political pressure and people on the streets forestalled the judicial overhaul.

Even though it technically didn’t have to, they still had the votes in the Knesset.

They could have gone ahead with it, right?

But it put pressure on them.

This is trying to put pressure on them in the same way to somehow change their ways, even if we don’t get the immediate elections that we want. – Well, I hope it’s successful.

The last thing I would say is in, really, what I think is one of the most remarkable political acts, though it wasn’t that much talked about, this week, Gantz himself came out and said, and said, “No, Netanyahu is not acting “out of his own interest.

“He is acting out of concern for the hostages “and he’s making reasonable decisions.”

Which was an astonishing thing for his biggest political opponent to say, but Benny Gantz is a responsible man.

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