Israeli government faces largest protests since war began, Netanyahu in surgery


Netanyahu is also facing a litany of corruption charges which are slowly making their way through the courts, and critics say his decisions appear to be focused on political survival over the national interest. Opinion polls show Netanyahu and his coalition trailing far behind their rivals if elections were held today.

Unless his governing coalition falls apart sooner, Netanyahu won’t face elections until spring of 2026.

Many families of hostages had refrained from publicly denouncing Netanyahu to avoid antagonising the leadership and making the hostages’ plight a political issue. But as their anger grows, some now want to change course – and they played a major role in Sunday’s anti-government protest.

Protesters surround the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, amid the largest demonstrations since the war began.

Protesters surround the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, amid the largest demonstrations since the war began.Credit: AP

The crowd stretched for blocks around the Knesset, Israeli’s parliament, and organisers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days. They urged the government to hold new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before undergoing hernia surgery, said he understood families’ pain. But he said calling new elections would paralyse Israel for six to eight months and stall the hostage talks. For now, Netanyahu’s governing coalition appears to remain firmly intact.

Netanyahu was conscious and conversing with family on Monday after a successful operation, the hospital treating him said.

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Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem said Netanyahu was recovering, but did not immediately specify how long that might take.

Some hostage families agree that now is not the time for elections.

“I don’t think that changing the prime minister now is what will advance and help my son to come home,” Sheli Shem Tov, whose son Omer was kidnapped from a music festival, told Israel’s Channel 12. “To go to elections now will just push to the side the most burning issue, which is to return the hostages home.”

Netanyahu also repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing fighting elsewhere. “There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said, adding that US pressure would not deter him. Israel’s military says Hamas battalions remain there.

Ultra-Orthodox division

In another reminder of Israel’s divisions, a group of reservists and retired officers demonstrated in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood.

Ultra-Orthodox men for generations have received exemptions from military service, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women. Resentment over that has deepened during the war. Netanyahu’s government has been ordered to present a new plan for a more equitable draft law by Monday.

Netanyahu, who relies heavily on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties, last week asked for an extension.

An ultra-orthodox jew burns an Israeli flag as anti-government amid protests against their military service exemptions.

An ultra-orthodox jew burns an Israeli flag as anti-government amid protests against their military service exemptions.Credit: Getty

The Bank of Israel said in its annual report on Sunday that there could be economic damage if large numbers of ultra-Orthodox men continue not to serve in Israel’s military.

AP, Reuters

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