Israeli war minister calls for elections as pressure grows on Netanyahu over Gaza conflict

Killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid staff draws international criticism while protesters disrupt Knesset parliament

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz has called for elections to be held in September, as domestic and international pressure increased on prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the conflict in Gaza.

“A date for an election would leave us enough time to continue with the security effort, and would allow citizens to know that we will soon renew the trust between us. It will prevent the rift in our people,” Mr Gantz said.

Thousands of people demonstrated outside the Knesset parliament on Wednesday night in the culmination of four days of protests demanding new elections and the return of the 134 hostages held in Hamas captivity in Gaza.

Relatives of the hostages disrupted a Knesset session and raised hands painted in yellow, spreading the paint on the glass visitors’ gallery partition, before being evicted by security guards.


Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected the call for early elections, saying Mr Gantz must “stop engaging in petty politics” during the war. It added: “Elections now will bring about paralysis, division, harm to the fighting in Rafah and a fatal blow to the chances of a hostage deal.” Just a few days ago, Mr Netanyahu said early elections would paralyse Israel for up to eight months, which would play into the hands of Hamas.

Mr Gantz, a former army general, joined Mr Netanyahu’s government in the early days of the war as a gesture of political unity during the crisis. Polls suggest his party would come top in any election and he would be favourite to take over as prime minister.

Mr Netanyahu has also come under pressure following the killing of seven humanitarian workers in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Monday night.

Israel’s top general, lieut gen Herzi Halevy, on Wednesday said the strike “was a mistake that followed a misidentification, at night, during a war, in very complex conditions”.

He spoke after receiving Israel’s preliminary findings of the investigation into the air strike in which the World Central Kitchen (WCK) staff were killed while travelling in a three-vehicle convoy in central Gaza.

US president Joe Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken by the deaths of the humanitarian workers”.

WCK founder chef Jose Andres addressed the incident in an opinion article for the New York Times on Wednesday, in which he said that Israel “cannot win this war by starving an entire population”.

“We know Israelis. Israelis, in their heart of hearts, know that food is not a weapon of war. Israel is better than the way this war is being waged,” he wrote. He said the Israeli government “needs to open more land routes for food and medicine today. It needs to stop killing civilians and aid workers today. It needs to start the long journey to peace today. You cannot save the hostages by bombing every building in Gaza.”

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan has reportedly warned Israel that the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) organisation could issue a famine declaration for Gaza in the coming weeks.

According to the Axios news site, Mr Sullivan said this would be the third such declaration of the 21st century.

Israel has said it is still waiting for the Hamas response to its latest ceasefire proposals, which reportedly included some flexibility on allowing displaced residents of northern Gaza to return to their homes. However, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said on Wednesday that the movement was sticking to its demand for a permanent ceasefire and an Israeli military withdrawal.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, almost 33,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on October 7th. Some 134 hostages, some of whom have died, remain in Hamas captivity.

Israel has ordered its diplomatic missions abroad to go on a high state of alert after threats from Tehran to avenge Monday’s attack on the Iranian consulate building in Damascus, attributed to Israel, which killed a senior Iranian commander and six other people.- Additional reporting: Reuters

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem