Schlaglicht Number 4/24, Latest News from the Israeli Press, February 16-29, 2024

"Schlaglicht Israel" offers an insight into internal Israeli debates and reflects selected, political events that affect daily life in Israel. It appears every two weeks and summarizes articles that appeared in the Israeli daily press.


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Main topics covered in this Publication:

  1. Huldai and Lion Prevail in Local Elections
  2. Ultra-Orthodox Men on Duty on the Weapon
  3. War Against Hamas
  4. Other Topics


1. Huldai and Lion Prevail in Local Elections

Looking ahead to the local elections, and a much needed balance of power

(…) In contrast to many other democracies, which have a balance of power between central and local governments, Israel is one of the most centralized countries in the democratic world. (…) For starters, the proportion of Israel’s local authority budgets out of the total government budget is very low compared to the rest of the world. This reflects the low power of local government in community-specific policy areas, such as education and public transportation. Along with this, there is a broad scope of regulatory guidelines and procedures imposed on local authorities by the Knesset and the government, many of which mandate close supervision over the authorities’ work. Decisions at the core of local authorities’ powers can be carried out only with the approval of the Ministry of Interior (…). While most other democracies have intermediate governing levels between national and local government, such as states or provinces, Israel only has local government. This means that it is the only government arm, other than the Knesset, whose authority and legitimacy is derived from the people; they are the one and only other body that is directly accountable to the public. (…) it is crucial that the public continue to show confidence in local government, demonstrating that communities are behind it and signaling to national leaders the democratic imperative to let local leaders represent communities on the unique issues that impact their lives. (…)

Ariel Finkelstein, JPO, 22.02.24


Municipal elections still important, despite being overshadowed by war

(…) this municipal election comes at a (…) complex time (…) it comes in the middle of a war. (…) The locales most clearly affected are the 14 that will not be holding elections because their residents have been forced to evacuate. But even those that are holding elections are likely to experience a change in voter trends, though the direction is not yet apparent. It seems, however, that the focus has shifted mainly to welfare, living conditions for IDF soldiers and reservists, and, of course, the hostages being held by Hamas. Meanwhile, the topics at the forefront of the localities’ focus – education, infrastructure, services, transportation, and so on – have been shunted into an obscure and murky background. (…) It is the local authorities that coordinate with police how to manage security within cities, and it is those security systems that function under the leadership of local authorities in Israel’s South that ultimately defended those communities on October 7. (…) A lot of Israel’s future is currently unclear, now more than ever. (…) So even if it is challenging, even if it’s the last thing you want to do today, go out and vote. Israel needs you now, more than ever. (…)

Editorial, JPO, 27.02.24


My absence was my vote

(…) when the municipal elections came around, I couldn’t participate. I didn’t want to choose the lesser of two evils; I didn’t want to endorse a system that seemed so broken. My absence from the polls was my way of saying “enough.” I’m tired of watching the same cycle of unfulfilled promises and tolerated incompetence. Not voting was my rebellion, asking for more meaningful change. It’s not that I don’t care; on the contrary, I care too much. I want to see a system that truly allows for new ideas and new people in power, a system that doesn’t just accept change but embraces it. Maybe my decision not to vote won’t change anything. But at least, when I lay down at night, I know I didn’t contribute to perpetuating a system that, in my view, needs deep reform. I’m waiting for a time when voting feels again like an act of hope, not resignation. Until then, my absence was my vote.

Gil Mildar, TOI, 28.02.24


Local Election Results Are a Flashing Red Light for Israel's Democratic Camp

(…) The antidemocratic forces – the ultra-Orthodox parties, the religious Zionist garin torani groups, and the far-right, racist parties – organized in a few communities and scored gains that are disproportionate to the true size of the groups they represent. Conversely, the democratic camp, which for nearly a year turned out weekly for giant demonstrations on Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street and dozens of locations around the country, failed in most cases to translate the anger at the most useless and corrupt government in the country's history into electoral gains in local governments. (…) There is some good news, however. Several liberal candidates, a few of whom are riding on the coattails of the anti-government protest movement, managed to unite for electoral gains. (…) Another conclusion to draw from the elections is the growing similarity between the ruling Likud party and the far-right Otzma Yehudit, a party that would be outlawed in any Western country. (…) The heads of the parties that form the opposition to Netanyahu's disastrous government and the leaders of the protest organizations must draw conclusions from these elections. They must organize into broad political structures, give up the ego games, get ready for a grassroots campaign, recruit volunteers, and be prepared to fight for every vote. (…)

Editorial, HAA, 29.02.24


2. Ultra-Orthodox Men on Duty on the Weapon

Encouraging haredi participation in the IDF

On the Knesset’s table sits a draft bill to significantly extend the military service for the demographic groups that actually serve in the IDF (…) without imposing any military burden at all on the groups that do not serve, primarily the ultra-Orthodox (haredim). For a brief moment, there was hope of a nascent enlistment movement among haredi youth in light of the security emergency, but this was dashed. The haredim carry on as before (…). The State of Israel must stop underwriting a lifestyle that engenders inequality in how the national burden is met. It would mandate significant cuts in the unique allowances the haredi sector currently receives. This is not a punishment but a change in public policy regarding the allocation of state resources to the occupation known simply as “Torah Study.” The cessation of support, while ensuring minimal funding to preserve basic “human dignity,” if it is consistent and resolute, would activate internal market forces that can effectuate change. (…) a symbolic benefit would also be achieved: the ultra-Orthodox would wear uniforms like their non-haredi counterparts and experience a sense of having “joined” the larger society. And above all, when the haredim are perceived as defenders of the population in all its diversity, the negativity they currently encounter will fade away. (…)

Yedidia Stern, JPO, 24.02.24


Yes to drafting the ultra-Orthodox, no to imposing values on them

(…) Anyone who has taken part in military funerals, anyone who has seen the deep pain and immense void in the eyes of the families, understands that there is no end to the abyss of pain. Out of the war-inflicted pain, many honestly ask: "Where are the ultra-Orthodox?" (…) We are partners in this country, subject to the same threats, hated by the same enemies, and threatened by the same dangers; Therefore, we are required to respond to the Israeli dilemma regarding our common security mission. (…) There is nothing easier than calling on all ultra-Orthodox youth to join the IDF. (…) It will not happen. (…) However, to begin the required process, one must speak with the Haredi public, and not talk over their heads or criticize them. (…) from the ultra-Orthodox perspective, the discussion should revolve around only those who do not study. Is the army ready to add them to its ranks without taking their identity away from them? (…) The demand of the ultra-Orthodox public to clear out the yeshiva halls for the sake of any service is perceived as an attack on the ultra-Orthodox way of life. When the discussion is conducted from a point of understanding of the ultra-Orthodox society, it will be possible to talk about the other half of the deal: the integration of thousands of ultra-Orthodox youth into the army without harming their identity, as well as the drafting the ultra-Orthodox who have passed the age of yeshiva. (…)

Arye Erlich, YED, 26.02.24


My Call to Arms to Haredim

The Jewish nation is living through days of uncertainty, shock and pain that never seem to end. (…) The issues that divided us on October 6 dissolved overnight. All those arguments and hostile positions became meaningless when we confronted the monsters of Hamas. We all woke up facing a fight for our survival that no one wanted. This war has united our nation (…) when it comes to Yeshiva students, many (…) are not really learning all day in the Beit Midrash. (…) Now is the time to speak out loudly and clearly to these members of the Haredi community, and to request their assistance. Our country is burning, and this existential threat requires us to play an integral role in the national effort. (…) It’s time for the leaders of the IDF and the Haredi community to sit together and create new and suitable army frameworks that can contribute in real terms to the national defense forces, while upholding our uncompromising halachic standards. (…) It’s time for the Haredi leadership to recognize the opportunity, to show their wisdom, and acknowledge the urgency to reach an agreement on this issue. Otherwise, I fear that the rest of Israeli society will never forgive us. (…)

‏Menachem Bombach, TOI, 27.02.24


All Israelis should be subject to military service

(…) These wars on the southern and the northern borders have necessitated the mobilization of nearly 300,000 reservists, the largest call-up in Israeli history. (…) In all fairness, the Israel Defence Forces should be drawing recruits from the haredi community, which most definitely is not pulling its weight in the defense of the country. (…) Yair Lapid has introduced legislation to penalize draft dodgers. Under his proposal, able-bodied men of sound mind who evade military service will no longer be eligible for government subsidies. (…) Lapid’s bill must be seriously considered by the government. Israel is fighting a protracted two-front war today, and Israelis from all walks of life should share this crushing burden equally. If ultra-Orthodox Jews find military service objectionable, they should be pressed into national service at the very least. They can work in hospitals, schools and charitable institutions. (…)

Sheldon Kirshner, TOI, 28.02.24


Rest of Israel's population cannot be ultra-Orthodox's flak jackets regarding IDF service

(…) Haredi exemption, from the start, was a historical mistake. In the current security reality, it is intolerable. (…) The time has come for the haredim to shoulder their fair share of the national burden. (…) While a negligible figure of 540 ultra-Orthodox enlisted to serve for a short period of a few days, 66,000 haredi men between ages 18 and 26 enjoy the “Torah study as full-time occupation” exemption. By contrast, the best and brightest of our children are serving on the borders, in the standing army, and in the reserves, on an almost unprecedented scale. Many are at risk, and unfortunately many have been injured and killed. (…) By 2030, one in four young Israelis will be ultra-Orthodox. (…) Halachic adjudicators, heads of yeshiva, and hundreds of thousands of students have proved that it is possible to combine a safra and saifa – the book and the sword. Military service does not detract from or hinder great Torah learning if there is a true desire for greatness and Torah. (…) given the security reality and the rapid increase in the population share of the haredim, it is no longer just a value but a necessity. Without the haredim, the service burden on the rest of Israeli society will be unbearable. (…) Even at the cost of a political confrontation, the time has come to strip the Israeli flak jacket from the haredim and include them in bearing the national burden the rest of us carry with pride.

Shuki Friedman, JPO, 29.02.24


3. War Against Hamas

The IDF will get the job done in Rafah despite gloom and doom

Israel's top security officials have no doubt that going into Rafah is only question "when" and not "if". (…) The gloom and doom before entering Rafah will ultimately be proven ill-advised as well. (…) The IDF fought and dismantled Hamas battalions in the north of the strip even as 300,000 locals were there. The situation in Rafah is not unlike what we have seen over the past four months of fighting. Although it is slightly more complex, the four complete Hamas battalions in the area will be dismantled. (…) Almost the entire Hamas command field staff has been hit. The terrorist organization's chain of command no longer runs from the top down; every order is just locally communicated on the ground. A deputy now makes decisions that used to be made only by Hamas brigade commanders. (…) The security establishment has been working hard, with significant maneuvering while trying to avoid areas where, according to intelligence estimates, the captives are held – all while devising and implementing more plans. This is the army's ultimate moral duty – to deliver results. Meanwhile, the civilian echelon must know how to leverage these gains in negotiations for the return of the captives, and in ensuring our future for the next few decades.

Uri Dagon, IHY, 16.02.24


Israel’s Pending Rafah Invasion Sparks Opposition

(…) Israel’s rationale for capturing Rafah is compelling. Israel cannot acquire full control of Gaza unless it obliterates four Hamas battalions in and around Rafah and destroys its network of tunnels there. (…) An operation of this kind would be extremely complicated in light of the fact that more than one million out of 2.3 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza have fled to Rafah to avoid fighting further north. (…) President Joe Biden (…) has urged caution, having advised Israel “not to proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering” in Rafah. (…) Echoing their views, Canada, Australia and New Zealand released a joint statement recently stating that “a military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic.” (…) Arab countries (…) have urged Israel not to launch an incursion into Rafah. (…) U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there is an “extraordinary opportunity” in the months ahead to defuse the war in Gaza, to ensure Israel’s security, and to integrate Israel into the Middle East.

Netanyahu, who has long been opposed to Palestinian statehood, has dismissed talk of such an agreement. (…) And so Israel prepares to invade Rafah, a city on the cusp of a wrenching transformation that may well affect the outcome of the war in Gaza.

Sheldon Kirshner, TOI, 17.02.24


Will Netanyahu lead by example?

Four and a half months into the Gaza war, it is time to revisit the goals set by the government. Israel has achieved some of them with great success, some partially, and some are clear failures. (…) So far, 18 out of 24 fighting battalions have been destroyed. The remaining four in Rafah and two in the central refugee camps are still active. Based on experience so far, it will take another 6 to 8 weeks until they are dismantled once the order is given. Even after the battalions are no longer functioning militarily, the IDF will have much work for many months down the road. Hamas will try to rebuild, mainly through local guerilla forces staging pinpointed attacks, and the IDF will go in and out of different areas in the strip to address emerging threats, similar to the pattern in the West Bank after Operation Defensive Shield. Anyone expecting terrorism to drop to zero is spreading dangerous illusions. (…) While Israel has heavily damaged governing institutions in the strip, Hamas' control of the territory remains firm. Because they are responsible for food and fuel supply, they maintain power, especially because their leaders have not been harmed and continue to instill fear among Gazans. (…) The entire Hamas leadership – Yahya Sinwar, Mohammad Deif, and Marwan Issa – still lives and functions.  (…) the cracks in national unity are troubling. (…) Netanyahu was right to ask that people not listen to those trying to divide; it would be even better if he would set a personal example and start implementing this himself as well.

Yoav Limor, IHY, 18.02.24


An Israeli offensive in Rafah could worsen relations with Egypt

(…) Netanyahu’s directive to the military to formulate a plan for eradicating Hamas’s battalions in Rafah, including the evacuation of civilians from the area (…) may prove overly ambitious. In reality, the plan has already been devised and is pending approval by the cabinet. (…) Israel and Egypt both (…) envision a new Sunni-led regional order, supported by the United States, to counterbalance the influence of Iran and its allies. At the same time, there are conflicts of interest between Israel and Egypt. From the Egyptian perspective, Israel taking control of the Philadelphi Corridor while “encouraging the migration of Gazans to Egypt,” as several Israeli politicians have stated, constitutes a red line.

Similarly, the two states are in disagreement over what should happen after the war. While Egypt supports the return of an “upgraded” PA to rule Gaza, Israel has expressed opposition to the return of the PA in any form. (…) From a military standpoint, Israel aims to eliminate the Hamas battalions in Rafah and gain control over the Philadelphi Corridor to block Hamas’s smuggling tunnels. Egypt seeks to broker a deal to secure the release of hostages and halt the war, at least temporarily, to ward off the nightmarish scenario of Palestinian refugees flooding Sinai. (…) Israeli military operation in Rafah following a collapse of negotiations is a very real and frightening possibility from an Egyptian perspective. (…) an Israeli military operation in Rafah may be deemed necessary to eradicate Hamas, it also carries the risk of deteriorating Israeli-Egyptian relations. Avoiding this scenario will demand meticulous planning for the safe relocation of Gazan refugees and close coordination between Egypt and Israel. Yet a sober analysis would lead to the conclusion that even with such measures in place, there’s no guarantee that the worst-case scenario can be entirely averted.

Elie Podeh, Onn Winckler, YED, 20.02.24


Netanyahu's Messianic Coalition Partners Want an All-out Regional War. Gaza Is Just a First Step

The supreme aim of the far-right duo National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is not the occupation of the Gaza Strip. (…) The ultimate aim of this gang is "purging" the West Bank of its Palestinian inhabitants, cleansing the Temple Mount of its Muslim worshippers and annexing the territories to the state of Israel. The way to achieve this goal is blood-soaked. (…) Armageddon. All-out war. In the south, in Jerusalem, in the territories of the West Bank and to the extent necessary also on the northern border. Such a war will bolster the impression that we are fighting for our lives, for our very existence. (…) Continuation of the military campaign in Rafah (…) is exactly the fuse that will ignite the streets of Egypt's cities, and after that also those in Jordan – another country whose relations with Israel are essential to our security. Before events degenerate, we will be facing several Arab countries that will have lost the remnants of the trust they have in the ability to create a relationship based on cooperation with Israel. (…) Amid all this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to set the Temple Mount on fire. When the riots start around freedom of worship for the Muslim citizens of Israel and the Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem – an extensive wave of terror will crest. (…) Instead of respecting the Arab community's solidarity, Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir are antagonizing it and inciting against it. (…) And when the wave of terror erupts, the messianic hallucinators will explain to us that force is necessary to prevent terror. Thus, war will seethe throughout the West Bank. And we haven't said anything yet about the northern border. (…) But Ben-Gvir and Smotrich do not want quiet on the northern front. (…) Things are so dire that there is no way to avoid saying them loud and clear: Netanyahu, this will end in a lot more blood. Take heed – you have been warned.

Ehud Olmert, HAA, 22.02.24


The lie and the truth about total victory

(…) Reaching the last of the armed men is a goal that would require several years. This is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu means when he declares to the goal of “total victory.” Thus, it is not victory which he aims for, but a war that would be drawn out over years. The political motivation for such a drawn-out war is well-known. (…) now is the perfect timing for a sane alternative to Hamas to assume control of Gaza, alongside Hamas’ removal from the regional equation and from any negotiating table for future arrangements. President Biden has requested that this moment of opportunity be taken advantage of. (…) Hamas would not be defeated as long as it remains the exclusive authority for the residents of Gaza. Netanyahu’s continued blunt and decisive resistance to the Biden plan is a continuation of his policy of strengthening Hamas, the very policy that brought upon Israel the October 7th disaster, for which he has yet to pay the price. If Netanyahu rejects the American president’s proposal, who, according to his approach, would administer civilian life in the Gaza Strip? Israel does not have the resources to take on responsibility for 2.2 million residents. Hamas would in fact be the body that would continue to serve as the sovereign. The slogan of “total victory” is a outright lie. There is no victory without a different body, rather than Hamas, representing the Palestinians. (…)

Ephraim Sneh, YED, 24.02.24


4. Other Topics

Ramadan Awaited With Concern

Reclaiming Ramadan from the extremists

(…) Ramadan is a month of introspection, spiritual cleansing, fasting and connection between individuals and their creator. It's a time when Muslims around the globe are encouraged to increase acts of goodness, kindness and love. It teaches us humility, modesty, empathy, compassion and charity. (…) However, in Israel, Ramadan has become something dangerous and oppressive, which is not in line with the essence of Islam. Embedded within the Quran are timeless values of human love and compassion. Especially during these harrowing days, following the horrific massacre on October 7 – a massacre perpetrated by human monsters, profaning the sacred and invoking the Quran – it's crucial to remember that the Quran serves as a guide toward bettering humanity. Our Quran vehemently opposes murder, rape, slaughter, beheading, burning, humiliation and abduction. It mourns the killings committed by fundamentalist Islamists who do not represent any god. (…) The Ramadan knocking at our door is a month of love. (…) During Ramadan, the responsibility of every Muslim worldwide – and particularly in Israel – is to restore the lost and tarnished honor of this month of peace, to repair the damages inflicted by the blasphemers. (…)

Naeem Zoabi, YED, 19.02.24


The holy month of Ramadan, piety, and murder

(…) I remember well how, in the month before Ramadan, we would be extra alert walking the streets. Terrorists held that Ramadan was too holy to shed blood. Therefore, they tried to intensify their warped statements of rage before the blessed month would start. No longer. Now, the regular terrorists and their instigators think they enhance the holy period by increasing their assassinations. Now, Ramadan stands for Muslim identity, and for them, that is the shedding of Jewish blood. Not for the regular Muslim, though. Like most of the Jerusalem bus drivers. For them, Ramadan means a month in which you behave in an exalted manner. No eating or (…) no smoking, anger (!), sexual thoughts, or staring at women. (…) For the general population, war during Ramadan is a desecration of the Festival. So, Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz can threaten that the IDF will enter Rafach unless hostages return before Ramadan. Terrorist mindsets of today make that the head of Israel’s secret service warns that Temple Mount curbs on Ramadan ‘could spark a holy war.’ Never mind that access to the Temple grounds on Ramadan was always limited to married men over a certain age. But no one remembers. And any excuse to fight Jews is now seen as sanctifying the Festival.

Moshe-Mordechai van Ziuden, TOI, 26.02.24


Hostages in the Gaza Strip

A ceasefire cannot take place without hostages' release and Hamas vanquished

(…) It is essential that a ceasefire not take place until the hostages are all returned and Hamas is vanquished. (…) It is Hamas that has systematically tunneled under civilian areas and uses hospitals for cover and has destroyed Gaza and done unprecedented harm to civilians there. Gaza had a chance to prosper but Hamas took it over and channeled international aid to tunnels and used aid to control the population. (…) Rafah is the Hamas springboard for returning to October 6 or The Day Before. (…) Now is the time for the people of Israel to remain unified and steadfast in fighting terrorism and defeating Hamas. (…) Hamas is a vile terrorist organization that has shown what its real ideology looks like on October 7. Any ceasefire is a way for Hamas to prepare for more genocidal attacks. (…) the enemy is too dangerous to leave it in control of the border of Gaza, where it feasts off international aid while it stockpiles weapons. (…)

Editorial, JPO, 20.02.24


Weaponizing the Hostages

When I think of the hostages, in particular of the women going through the hell that the Palestinians are surely inflicting on them, I want (…) to hurt someone. (…) But I would never (…) want to condemn other Israelis to the same nightmare in order to save them. (…) What is the purpose of marching and demonstrating and screaming “Bring back the hostages!” Does anyone think for a moment that we aren’t doing everything we can to bring them back? Does anyone think that these demonstrations are helping in that effort? Does anyone think that these demonstrations are going to make the government try harder?  (…) They obviously aren’t. Even the simplest of the simple don’t think that. (…) The families of the hostages can be excused for wanting to do anything — everything — that anyone tells them will help. (…) But Binyamin Netanyahu is responsible to more than 134 Israelis. He’s responsible to all of us. He can’t act emotionally, as the families of the hostages are doing. It would be unforgivable if he did. And every single one of the Kaplanistas knows that this is true. (…) There is no justification for those at all. That is nothing but weaponization of the hostages and their plight for cynical political purposes. And (…) the people who go out to Kaplan and join in these demonstrations should be ashamed. Deeply ashamed.

Lisa Liel, TOI, 23.02.24






HAA = Haaretz

YED = Yedioth Ahronoth / Ynetnews

JPO = Jerusalem Post

IHY = Israel HaYom

TOI = Times of Israel

GLO = Globes


Published: March 2024.



Dr. Ralf Melzer,

Head of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel



Susanne Knaul

Judith Stelmach


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