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After Hamas attack, most Israelis want Netanyahu to resign, according to poll

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he meets with President Biden, Oct. 18, in Tel Aviv.
Evan Vucci
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he meets with President Biden, Oct. 18, in Tel Aviv.

TEL AVIV, Israel — Noam Tibon was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 7 when he heard sirens, followed by an alarming text message: Hamas militants had infiltrated his son's community in southern Israel.

He told his son to lock himself in a safe room. Then Tibon, a retired major general in Israel's army, grabbed his pistol, hopped in his car — and drove south from Tel Aviv, making phone calls along the way.

"I tried the chief of staff, the southern commander and the division commander — I know all of them — but nobody responded to me," Tibon, 62, tells NPR.

When he finally encountered Israeli soldiers, Tibon asked them to continue south toward the front line with him.

"But their commander said, 'No, I need permission, I need orders,'" Tibon recalls. "At that time, I knew: This is chaos. Nobody's giving orders."

Tibon says he's never been a political man. But he calls what he witnessed that day a "colossal breakdown" of the Israeli security apparatus to which he devoted his career. And there's one person he blames.

"Benjamin Netanyahu cannot stay even one more day on the chair of the prime minister," Tibon says. "He is a failure and he must go."

A destroyed car in the village of Be'eri in southern Israel on Oct. 14. The village was attacked by Hamas militants a week prior.
/ Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
Tanya Habjouqa / NOOR for NPR
A destroyed car in the village of Be'eri in southern Israel on Oct. 14. The village was attacked by Hamas militants a week prior.

A majority of Israelis want Netanyahu to go

In Israel, grief and anger are raw after Hamas militants stormed into parts of the country on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and kidnapping more than 240. In response, the Israeli military has unleashed more than a month of heavy attacks and a total siege on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas. Israel's offensive has left more than 11,000 Palestinians dead in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry there.

But a growing number of Israelis are blaming their own prime minister for security lapses that may have made the country more vulnerable.

A Nov. 3 pollfound 76% of Israelis want Netanyahu to resign. On Nov. 7, a leading pro-Netanyahu newspaper reversed its stance and ran an editorial calling for his ouster after the war. Polls taken last month show Netanyahu would lose if elections were held now.

In power for most of the past 16 years, Netanyahu has long portrayed himself as tough on security. But critics say he strayed from that focus, and gambled with it.

Last year, he invited far-right religious parties to govern with him. Together they have expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank, alienating the moderate Palestinian Authority, which governs that territory. Meanwhile, Netanyahu was accused of bolstering the more hard-line rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in a risky move to try to drive a wedge between Palestinian leaders in the two noncontiguous territories.

And when Netanyahu earlier this year launched a controversial reform of the country's judicial system, weakening the courts and giving himself more control over them, it divided Israelis and prompted massive street protests.

To Tibon, it was all a diversion from Israel's own security. Since Oct. 7, divisions among Israelis over Netanyahu's policies have now given way to greater unity — against the prime minister.

Officials under Netanyahu are taking the blame

On Nov. 2, a municipal official from Netanyahu's Likud Party in the country's south, where the Hamas attacks happened, resigned from the party on live TV.

"I place the blame on the Israeli government. I call here on all my friends, members of the Likud Central Committee, to take a similar step, in view of this incredible failure," said Tamir Idan, head of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, waving his resignation letter.

Israel's defense minister, the military chief of staff and the head of the country's domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet have all said they personally accept responsibility for security lapses.

Netanyahu admits mistakes were made. He told ABC News on Monday: "The responsibility of a government is to protect the people and clearly that responsibility wasn't met."

But in a now-deleted social media post, he blamed defense and intelligence officials for giving him faulty assessments.

The prime minister says there will be an investigation — and that he's happy to answer questions himself — but only after the war is over. At news conferences, he's nevertheless been asked repeatedly about whether he plans to resign.

"The only thing that I intend to have resign is Hamas," Netanyahu told an Oct. 30 gathering of foreign reporters. "We're going to resign them to the dustbin of history."

Hostage families join street protests

One of the slogans from protests earlier this year over Netanyahu's judicial reforms — "Lech ha bayta," meaning "Get out" in Hebrew — has been repurposed at fresh demonstrations in recent days. Protesters have gathered outside the Israeli legislature and at Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu's supporters say these are the same left-wing critics who led previous rallies against the prime minister's judicial reforms. And they say the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks were not the prime minister's fault.

But the latest protests have been bolstered by participation by some of the families of the more than 240 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.

At a recent rally in Tel Aviv, Tsipi Haitovsky, the neighbor of a family with several members among the hostages, told NPR she wants Netanyahu to resign immediately.

But she says the hostage families are divided. Privately, they're criticizing Netanyahu, Haitovsky says. But many have been hesitant to raise their voices. Even some of Netanyahu's fiercest critics say war is not the time for political recriminations.

"There's this kind of belief that in the middle of war, you can't change the leadership," Haitovsky says.

Family members of people kidnapped from southern Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7 call for an immediate hostage release deal at the Western Wall, one month after the attacks, on Tuesday, in Jerusalem.
/ Maya Levin for NPR
Maya Levin for NPR
Family members of people kidnapped from southern Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7 call for an immediate hostage release deal at the Western Wall, one month after the attacks, on Tuesday, in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu's biographer says his ouster isn't a question of if, but when

Netanyahu is banking on Israelis not wanting to change leaders during a war, says Mazal Mualem, an Israeli political analyst and the author of a biography called Cracking the Netanyahu Code.

Mualem says Netanyahu is pragmatic — a realist. He believes he's got a window of opportunity to salvage his legacy while the war is underway, she says. Because he knows his premiership is unlikely to survive beyond that.

But Netanyahu is also a fighter. "And the more demonized he feels, the harder he fights," Mualem says.

Tibon, the army veteran who raced south on Oct. 7, took security into his own hands that day. He told NPR he drove past bodies and burned-out cars along the road. At one point, a young couple emerged from the bushes, having escaped a Hamas attack on a rave party in the desert. He gave them a lift. At another, Tibon says he engaged militants in a gun battle himself. He fought his way to his son's house, in a kibbutz near the Gaza border.

"When I got there, I knocked on the window and said, 'Dad is here.' And my little granddaughter, 3 1/2 years old, said 'Grandpa came!'" Tibon recalls. "And you know, that was the greatest moment of my life."

Locked in their basement, his family survived the Hamas attacks that day. But Tibon says an immediate change of Israeli leadership is the only way to ensure no other family goes through what he did.

NPR reporters Jaclyn Diaz and Samantha Balaban, and freelance producer Eve Guterman, all contributed to this story from Tel Aviv.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer
Lauren Frayer covers South Asia for NPR News. In 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.