I think an overview of the Israeli public’s reaction is necessary before contrasting it that with the rest of the Jewish world. By now, with regards to the public reaction, the two major stages of the operation should probably be looked at it differently. The first week, comprised solely of massive aerial strikes on hundreds of Hamas targets, was incredibly popular. Initial polls showed the operation was supported by 81% of the Israeli public. In fact, even before Cast Lead began, far-left Meretz called for an attack in Gaza, in a press release: “the time has come to act without compromises and without political considerations and to defend the residents of the Gaza area and Sderot.” (Hebrew)
Even the famous authors, Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, bona fide members of the Israeli far-left, supported the start of this operation, though they called for “a cease-fire as quickly as possible. And finally, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit has written a pretty good description of how Israelis feel about Cast Lead and what the sentiment is, with regards to Israelis who oppose it, calling them “Israel-hating Israelis,” saying that “[t]heir self-righteousness is not at all righteous, and their moralizing has no morality.”
Opponents of the operation, include, of course, Peace Now. But even they seem to base their calls for an immediate ceasefire on the initial results of the operation, calling on the government to take advantage of the message that has been sent to Hamas and to “cease fire now!” (Hebrew) This is similar to David Grossman’s piece in the NY Times, calling on the government to hold its fire, arguing strategy, not morals.
The part of the operation that began two days ago, on the ground, also enjoys widespread Israeli support, only a few days ago a poll showed 65% in favor, and 23% against. This poll can be miscontrued to believe that that Israelis who oppose this stage of the operation, oppose on moral grounds, and think it is wrong for Israel to harm Gazans in this way. Though there exists such a small minority, for the majority of this group, this is not the case. Most would probably say such an operation is simply not wise, because it will cost Israel too many lives, in return for very little. Even Meretz was careful in its wording. While they do not seem to fully support the operation any longer, the reasoning used is very important, “deepening the fighting endangers IDF soldiers and entangles Israel…” (Hebrew) In other words, the operation has not been deemed “unjust” by Meretz.
The opposition to fighting on the ground is, to a large extent, a result of the disaster that was the Second Lebanon War, and Shmuel Rosner does a good job of explaining these feelings. Ronen Shoval, writing in Ynet, also explains the moral quandary in which Israelis have found themselves. In addition to the over-cautiousness in dealing with Israel’s enemies at the expense of Israeli lives, over the years, IDF soldiers have become less of Israel’s army, and more “our children,” people that need to be protected, instead of those who protect us. Granted, IDF soldiers’ lives are very valuable, but “defense of soldiers’ lives, at the expense of placing Israeli civilians at risk” is a backwards rationale, and is indefensible from a moral standpoint. (from Hebrew)
Nevertheless, the ground operation is underway, and hopefully it will continure to be succesful, in the short run, as well as in the long run. With regards to Hamas, Israel’s neighbors, time and again, miscalculate the determination of Israelis to fight once a defensive operation is undertaken. The weakness perceived by the public’s reaction to kidnapping of soldiers leads them to anticipate, wrongly, that Israelis will prefer not to fight, and suffer under Hamas’ definition of “calm” or a “lull.”
NEXT: The Jewish world and its reaction.