The impact of the Gaza war on Israeli society: the Haredim case

  Articoli (Articles)
  Sara Oldani
  15 June 2024
  4 minutes, 1 second

The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has profoundly affected Israeli society, influencing both public opinion and social dynamics. This article explores the multifaceted impact of the Gaza War, focusing on the evolving relationships between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis (Haredim), the challenges facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership, and the broader shifts in Israeli public sentiment towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Changing dynamics between the Haredi community: the question of conscription

The Haredi minority in Israel, known for its strict adherence to religious study and customs, has traditionally maintained a separate existence from the secular majority. A key factor in this separation is the exemption of Haredim from mandatory military service, a privilege granted to preserve their religious and scholarly pursuits. However, this exemption has become a source of tension, with secular Israelis increasingly resentful of what they see as an imbalance of rights and responsibilities.

The recent Gaza conflict has acted as a catalyst for change within the Haredi community. Facing a common threat has led to a surge in support for military service among some Haredim, as indicated by polling data and increased interest in enlistment. This shift suggests a reevaluation of the Haredi community's role in Israeli society and its commitment to national security. However, integrating this conservative population into the military poses challenges, including addressing cultural sensitivities such as gender segregation and religious observance.

The impending deadline for the Knesset to pass legislation regulating Haredi conscription has heightened political tensions, threatening the stability of Netanyahu's coalition government. The Prime Minister's efforts to navigate this crisis, including promises of retroactive compensation and appeals for postponement, highlight the complex balance of interests at play. 

Shifts in Israeli public opinion

Recent opinion polls conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University's Peace Index reveal a significant shift in Israeli public opinion towards a more hawkish stance in the wake of the October 7 attacks and the ensuing war in Gaza. The surveys show that support for peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority among Israeli Jews has dramatically declined. From 47.6% in favor in September, support dropped to 24.5% following the attacks, reflecting widespread disillusionment with the peace process.

Public opinion heavily favors increased military force in Gaza. According to the Israel Democracy Institute poll, 57.5% of Israeli Jews believe the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are using too little firepower, while only 1.8% think the IDF is using too much. This robust support for greater military action underscores a hardened stance towards Hamas and the Gaza conflict.

Challenges to Netanyahu's leadership

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership has come under intense scrutiny in the aftermath of the Gaza War. Public dissatisfaction with his handling of the conflict is pronounced. In the Israeli Voice Index, 61.4% of respondents rated Netanyahu's performance negatively, a figure that rises to 75.8% in the Peace Index poll. Despite this dissatisfaction, trust in the IDF remains high, with 49.5% of respondents expressing greater trust in the military than in Netanyahu.

The issue of Haredi conscription has become a pivotal challenge for Netanyahu's administration. Failure to address this issue could precipitate the collapse of his coalition government, further complicating Israel's political landscape. Netanyahu's attempts to craft a solution to the Haredi conscription dilemma underscore the high stakes involved and the need for political leadership capable of navigating complex societal dynamics.

A complex scenario: Gaza war as a stress-test for Israel

The Gaza War has tested Israel's security and catalyzed significant changes in societal attitudes, religious identities, and political dynamics. The evolving relationships between secular and Haredi Israelis, coupled with challenges to Netanyahu's leadership, underscore the complex interplay of interests and ideologies shaping Israeli society. 

Despite the current hawkish turn in public opinion, an unexpected sense of optimism about the future prevails. The Israel Democracy Institute poll reveals that 64% of Israelis are "optimistic" or "somewhat optimistic" about the country's future. This optimism contrasts with the fractured national consensus during earlier democracy protests, suggesting a temporary sense of unity following the October 7 attacks.

However, this unity may be fleeting. Deep-seated political and ideological divisions within Israeli society remain, and the current sense of consensus could dissipate once the immediate conflict subsides. The challenge for Israeli leadership will be to navigate these turbulent waters while striving for a sustainable and peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. However, the commitment of Netanyahu to continue the war regardless of the disposition of the UN Security Council, will surely deepen the crisis into Israeli society and in the broader Middle East.

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Sara Oldani

Sara Oldani, classe 1998, ha conseguito la laurea triennale in Scienze politiche e relazioni internazionali presso l’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, sede di Milano e prosegue i suoi studi magistrali a Roma con il curriculum in sicurezza internazionale. Esperta di Medio Oriente e Nord Africa, ha effettuato diversi soggiorni di studio e lavoro in Turchia, Marocco, Palestina ed Israele. Studiosa della lingua araba, vuole aggiungere al suo arsenale linguistico l'ebraico. In Mondo Internazionale Post è Caporedattrice dell'area di politica internazionale, Framing the World.


Haredi Haredim Gaza Israel society war