Israelis donate blood at a hospital in Tel Aviv after a barrage of rockets were fired and fighters from the Gaza Strip infiltrated Israel, Oct. 7, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Jack Guez-AFP via Getty Images)
Israelis donate blood at a hospital in Tel Aviv after a barrage of rockets were fired and fighters from the Gaza Strip infiltrated Israel, Oct. 7, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Jack Guez-AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli opposition, pro-democracy protesters press unity in face of attacks from Hamas

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(JTA) — Hours after Saturday’s deadly surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, the Israeli protest group Achim le’Neshek (Brothers and Sisters in Arms) was helping arrange transportation for army reservists being called to the front.

“Brothers and Sisters in Arms call on everyone who is required to stand up for the defense of Israel without hesitation and immediately,” the group tweeted early Saturday. “Right now the most important thing is the safety of the country’s citizens.”

It was an abrupt turnabout by a group of military veterans and reservists who previously threatened  to refuse service if the government carried out its judicial reform plans, but a sign of how what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called a “war” with Hamas has mobilized a polarized Israeli public.

Opposition party heads in Israel’s Knesset issued a statement backing the Israel Defense Forces. The heads of the Yesh Atid, National Unity, Yisrael Beitenu and Labor parties wrote that they “are united in the face of terrorism,” and that “in days like these there is no opposition and no coalition in Israel.”

Organizers of the huge anti-government, pro-democracy protests that have convulsed the country for much of the year suspended the weekly demonstrations for the first time.

“We stand with the residents of Israel and give full support to the IDF and the security forces,” the protest organizers said in a statement, the Times of Israel reported. “We call on all those who are needed to report [for duty] and play their part to safeguard the security and health of the residents of Israel.”

Brothers and Sisters in Arms set up an online signup sheet for those needing transportation to army bases, hospitals and “family.”

The coordinated attack by Hamas came at a low point in the morale of the country. Last month, more than 180 former military, intelligence and police officials warned that the far-right government’s plan to reshape the country’s judiciary threatened the country’s resilience.  “We’ve been through wars, through military operations and all of a sudden you realize that the greatest threat to the state of Israel is internal,” Tamir Pardo, a former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and an organizer of the protest letter, told the Associated Press.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who has called for a compromise on the judiciary overhaul, also called for solidarity.

“I call on everyone to obey the directives of the Home Front Command, to show mutual support and calmness,” he wrote on X. “We can defeat all those who wish us harm!”

Hints of future divisions were already being seen in early reactions to the deadly attacks, with commenters in Israel questioning the military’s preparedness, the failure of Israeli intelligence to anticipate the attack and provocations by Jewish religious extremists at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But as rockets continued to rain down on Israel’s south and the border with Gaza remained breached, and Hamas reporting having taken Israelis prisoner, protesters, opposition leaders and those in power presented a united front.

Andrew Silow-Carroll

Andrew Silow-Carroll is Editor at Large of the New York Jewish Week and Managing Editor for Ideas for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.