Has Netanyahu misjudged tolerance for his actions?

As mass protests erupt worldwide over Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza, Andrew Feinstein asks if Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed his allies too far.
Press statement by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on 11 December 2017. Has Netanyahu misjudged tolerance for his actions? ALEXANDROS MICHAILIDIS/SHUTTERSTOCK
Press statement by Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on 11 December 2017. ALEXANDROS MICHAILIDIS/SHUTTERSTOCK

The appalling violence unleashed against Palestinians by Israel in the wake of Hamas’s attack on 7 October constitutes war crimes and could even become a genocide. This is taking place with the uncritical support of Western governments who are profiting massively from the arms sales that accompany the waves of bombing.

But has Israel’s government made a profound miscalculation? Might the ferocity, brutality and barbarism of the assault on Gaza and other Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) lead to more and more people around the world questioning the nature and functioning of the Israeli state and its ongoing, illegal occupation of Palestine?

Widespread solidarity

In the UK, US and Europe the mainstream media has largely parroted the rhetoric of senior politicians in accepting ‘Israel’s right to defend itself’, and claims of ‘proportionality’. The clear message being sent here is that Jewish Israeli lives are worth more than Palestinian lives.

The media coverage has also often failed to provide adequate context to the Hamas attack, suggesting it was ‘unprovoked’ and ‘a declaration of war’. And, most shockingly of all, political leaders and many journalists refuse to call for a ceasefire despite the staggering loss of life, with more than 8,000 Palestinians killed and counting.

Despite this monochromatic coverage and hegemonic political positioning, there are indications that many people in Western countries are not on board. For instance, one poll in the UK suggests 76 per cent of the public are in favour of a ceasefire.

In defiance of a ban on pro-Palestinian demonstrations in France, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Paris, along with numerous other European cities. Massive displays of solidarity with Palestine have been witnessed at sporting events around the world.

The UK has seen ever-larger mass demonstrations for three weekends in a row, while the US has experienced actions around the country, including by hundreds of Jews occupying the Capitol and New York City’s Grand Central station to demand their government support an immediate cease-fire.

Even in Israel, protesters are expressing anger at the Netanyahu government, albeit from a diversity of political perspectives, amongst which is that the blood-thirsty, vengeful response to 7 October is neither acceptable nor in Israel’s best security interests. A few families of victims of the Hamas attack have also called for peace rather than retribution.

It’s clear that Israel’s prime minister is in hot water. Writing in the traditionally pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper, correspondent Yoav Limor recently criticized the PM for supporting Hamas as part of a strategy to divide Palestinians. Such criticism from these corners would have been unheard of a few short weeks ago.

Hundreds of people demanding a ceasefire amid a war between Israel and Hamas forced the closure of Grand Central Station as Jewish Voice for Peace holds a rally on October 27, 2023 in New York City. The Jewish anti-Zionist organization has held protests in various cities urging calls for cease-fire and humanitarian help following Israel's retaliation bombing of Gaza after the Palestinian militant group launched a deadly attack in southern Israel on 7 October. Has Netanyahu misjudged tolerance for his actions? MICHAEL NIGRO/SIPA USA/ALAMY
Hundreds of people demanding a ceasefire amid Israel's brutal bombing campaign on Gaza forced the closure of Grand Central Station as Jewish Voice for Peace holds a rally on 27 October, 2023 in New York City. MICHAEL NIGRO/SIPA USA/ALAMY

Repeated untruths

Israel’s attempts to frame the narrative have not been as hegemonic as they would have hoped, even in the face of facts that contradict their accounts and alongside the apparently unwavering support of Western political leaders and the mainstream media.

Perhaps in an age of social media, and when public trust in the traditional press has plummeted, Edward Said’s description of ‘power repeating untruths until they have the force of truth’ is more difficult to achieve. And in recent days some media outlets have even started to bend to the mass outrage at Israel’s actions, witnessed by the New York Times expressing scepticism of Israel’s denial of culpability for the bombing of the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital on 17 October.

Israel’s actions have also created difficulties for its traditional allies and some new friends. Joe Biden has come under severe criticism, including from progressive Jewish citizens, who traditionally vote Democrat, for his uncritical support and particularly his inhumane attempt to question the veracity of casualty figures issued by the Gazan Health Ministry.

And it’s not just the US public who’ve been speaking out: inside the White House, an official working in the department responsible for the transfer of arms quit over Biden’s ‘destructive and unjust’ weapons sales to the nuclear-armed state.

Across the pond, the British Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, has seen Muslim voters in particular abandon his party in droves, with support falling from 71 per cent to just five 5 per cent after he stated that Israel is not violating international law and refusing to call for a ceasefire. At least 29 councillors have also resigned, including nine in Oxford, resulting in Labour losing its majority.

Those Arab countries who have signed the US-sponsored Abraham Accords with Israel, and Saudi Arabia, which seemed on the verge of joining the normalisation pact as early as October, now find themselves in an invidious position. The overwhelming majority of their populations fervently support the Palestinian cause, and their despotic leaders cannot be seen to be cosying up to Israel or its allies while the slaughter continues. How long-term this effect lasts remains to be seen.


While three weeks is a short time in geopolitics, it is possible that Netanyahu has horribly miscalculated the world’s tolerance for his murderous actions. As a consequence, the gains that Israel has made in recent years in silencing some pro-Palestinian voices, in slowing the progress of calls for a global Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign, in solidifying a zero-criticism approach to his country by its Western allies’ major political parties, and the growing rapprochement with previously hostile Arab states, may all be seriously set back by his indefensible attacks on Gaza and the Palestinian people. In fact, global outrage against Israel’s actions may well strengthen the BDS movement worldwide, just as apartheid South Africa’s brutal State of Emergency in the 1980s led to a massive intensification of boycott campaigns against the regime and contributed to the end of apartheid.