Netanyahu criticizes calls to end war in Gaza: ‘Did you forget so quickly October 7?′

The Israeli prime minister said Democrat Chuck Schumer’s address, which called for new elections in Israel, was ‘wholly inappropriate’

Netanyahu war in Gaza
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in Jerusalem.DPA vía Europa Press (DPA vía Europa Press)
Antonio Pita

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been saying almost every day that the Israeli army will invade Rafah — the only area of Gaza that has not been targeted by the Israeli ground offensive, where more than a million displaced Gazans are crowded in — “despite international pressure.” Similarly, he has been insisting that he will not call early elections until Israel “wins the war” against Hamas, a conflict that was sparked after the militant group attacked Israeli territory on October 7, 2023.

On Sunday, however, Netanyahu launched his biggest “Netanyahu against the world” message, rounding off a week that has seen Israel under increasing pressure from the United States, its most important ally, which provides it with weapons and funding, and vetoes all permanent ceasefire resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Israeli prime minister was an “obstacle to peace.” In his speech, the Democrat argued that Netanyahu had “lost his way” by governing with far-right extremists and “allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel.” A day later, U.S. President Joe Biden added insult to injury, saying that Schumer had made “a good speech” in which he raised the “serious concerns” of “many Americans.”

Aware of the implications of these comments, Netanyahu rushed to give interviews — with almost identical messages — to the U.S. television networks Fox and CNN. The Israeli prime minister said Schumer’s call for a new election was “wholly inappropriate.” “We’re not a banana republic,” said Netanyahu, arguing that elections cannot be “foisted on” the country. “It’s wrong to try to replace the elected leaders of a sister democracy, a staunch American ally, at any time, but especially during a time of war,” he added.

A column of smoke in Gaza after a bombing, this Sunday.
A column of smoke in Gaza after a bombing, this Sunday.Amir Cohen (REUTERS)

Shortly before the interviews, at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu sent a message to respond to the rising pressure on Israel. Turning to Israel’s “friends in the international community,” Netanyahu asked: “Is your memory so short? Did you forget so quickly October 7, the most terrible massacre committed against Jews since the Holocaust? Are you so quickly ready to deny Israel the right to defend itself against the monsters of Hamas? Did you lose your moral conscience so quickly?”

Netanyahu attacked those “in the international community who are trying to stop the war now, before all its goals are achieved.” He said that this group was making false accusations against him, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli government in a bid to bring about elections “in the midst of the war.” “And they do this because they know that elections now will stop the war and paralyze the country for at least six months,” claimed Netanyahu.

Future elections

Part of Sunday’s message was aimed at Israelis. Netanyahu knows that he will have to call elections in the near future — he is also under great pressure at home from weekly demonstrations — and he is seeking to position himself as a strong leader who sacrifices himself by shielding the country from international criticism and defending the security of his people. That formula, together with his reputation as “Mr. Economy,” has made Netanyahu the longest-serving prime minister of Israel: he has been in power for 16 of the country’s 75 years of existence.

But Netanyahu’s popularity has been undermined by his controversial judicial reform and the October 7 attacks. According to a poll broadcast last Tuesday on Channel 12, if an election were called, his Likud party would go from having 32 seats in Parliament to 19. The survey also found that 40% of Likud voters want a new election.

In his address on Sunday, Netanyahu not only reiterated that the Israeli army will invade Rafah — an operation he said will “take a few weeks” — he also had this message for critics: “Those who say that the operation in Rafah will not happen are the same ones who said that we will not enter Gaza, that we will not operate in Shifa [hospital], that we will not operate in Khan Younis and that we will not resume fighting after the [weeklong November] ceasefire,”

In the interview with Fox, he went further, comparing the calls to end the war in Gaza to the situation in World War II: “That’s like leaving a quarter of the Nazi terrorist army in Germany and saying ‘No, we’re not going to finish the last quarter. And we’re not going into Berlin.’”

“Let it be clear: If we stop the war now before all of its goals are achieved, this means that Israel will have lost the war, and this we will not allow. Therefore, we cannot, and will not, succumb to this pressure,” he said. “On the contrary, this simple truth only strengthens our determination to continue rejecting the pressure and fighting to the end — to total victory. No international pressure will stop us from realizing all of the goals of the war: Eliminating Hamas, freeing all of our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza never again constitutes a threat to Israel.”

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