Israeli mothers like me are fed up with having our children used as cannon fodder


(JTA) — Israeli mothers have had enough of the war. We are fed up with the endless violence, the mindless escalations, the aimlessness, the sacrificing of our children on the altar of political wins, the corruption and a prime minister who seems to care about nothing but his own political survival. 

And the mothers are starting to rebel. Though we have not yet had a definable impact on the situation, and it is not clear if we ever will, we won’t stop speaking out for the Israel that we believe in.

All of my four adult children or their spouses have been called up for military service since Oct. 7, and one of my sons-in-law is still on active duty. Two of my daughters live in the south, one in the Israeli “envelope” that borders Gaza, and were displaced for months with their babies and lived with me while their husbands were away.

I have been volunteering in many activities, from collecting supplies for single mothers and displaced families to supporting the injured in rehab centers to transporting Palestinians from checkpoints throughout the country to hospitals in Israel through Road to Recovery. Although these experiences are nothing compared to what Gazan mothers are going through, this war is still a major disruption and a complete erasure of the possibility of normalcy.

Several women-led organizations have been created with variations on the theme of protecting our children: Mothers Against Violence, Mother Awake, Mothers on the Front, Mothers of Soldiers, Mothers Screaming, to name a few. I’m in most of these groups, and I regularly attend activities and protests. My living room is filled with handmade placards, and my WhatsApp is popping 24/7 with calls to stop the war, agree to a cease fire, release the hostages, let overstretched soldiers come home to their families and hold elections immediately.

Members of these mothers’ groups come from all sides of the political spectrum — including former right-wingers like me who have moved to the left and former Netanyahu voters who have told crowds that they feel betrayed. Yet most share the same vision: Violence only brings more violence, all human beings are human beings, and the only way to bring lasting peace and get the hostages back is by speaking with our enemies instead of endlessly and mindlessly pounding away in Gaza while using our children as cannon fodder.

Over the past few weeks, the mothers’ groups have been exploding. The tipping point came with the impending invasion of Rafah. While pundits were describing an invasion as a booby trap that Hamas terrorists had been laying for months, while Palestinians were begging for basic humanitarian consideration, and while the American government was threatening Israel with ramifications, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unfazed. He did whatever he wanted and invaded Rafah anyway. Which means, in a country with universal mandatory conscription from age 18, that our children did that work. And the bodies have continued to pile up, on all sides, with no deal anywhere on the horizon.   

For many mothers, Rafah was the last straw. A group that is now called “Parents of Soldiers Screaming Enough!” (to include fathers, too) sent a letter with 900 signatures from combat parents calling for an end to the war. When that didn’t have any effect, we protested outside homes of cabinet ministers. When that also had no effect, the group began dressing up as injured soldiers and protesting outside hospitals.

This is a big deal. The assumed silence and docility of soldiers’ parents has always been a sacred cow in Israel. Army service is treated as an honorable national duty, and parents are expected to suck it up and act as models of military obedience.

But no more. Because, as the group wrote in the letter, the war isn’t working, and the parents no longer trust the IDF and its political leadership to have the best interests of the country at heart. Certainly not of the soldiers.

And still, Netanyahu seems unmoved. Nothing touches him. Not dead hostages. Not dead soldiers. Not dead Gazans. Not threats of losing American aid. Not the rising tides of antisemitism on college campuses. Not the irreparable damage to American political culture. Not even threats of being arrested by the International Criminal Court. Nothing veers him from his path.  

Many Israelis suspect he is clinging to office to avoid facing trial on long-standing charges of corruption. Or that he is holding out for the U.S. presidential election and a president more indulgent of his hawkish vision for Israel. 

Whatever the reason, while the Israeli government gripes about not having enough funds for displaced families from the Gaza envelope, it has had enough to spend on all-expense-paid missions bringing right-wing influencers to Israel. Anyone with an audience willing to say that Israel is doing nothing wrong and that Palestinians are all antisemitic liars and that the “woke left” is the cause of everything wrong in the world may find themselves receiving a personal invitation from the Israeli government to spread their gospel.  

As an American-Israeli, I think I have an additional unique perspective on all this. As a Barnard College alum who moved to Israel shortly after my 1991 graduation and marriage, I have been watching the campus protests closely. For a while I stopped writing and speaking critically of Israel out of fear of encouraging antisemitism. But then I realized that by self-silencing, I was exactly playing into Netanyahu’s hands. The chilling effect of the campus protests is precisely what he is aiming for. When American Jews are afraid, he is at his most powerful.

As awful as this is going to sound to my fellow Jews, I would like to say this: If we continue to respond to protests by insisting that it is all antisemitism and that Israel is doing nothing other than acting in self-defense, we will be taking an active part in bringing on not only more death on all sides, but also in ushering in a despotic future for Israel and parts of the rest of the world. The threats to democracy here and abroad are real. And that will be unhealthy for Jews and other living things. 

Instead of supporting Bibi, we need to be supporting the mothers — calling for a deal to end the war and release the hostages, and demanding new elections in Israel. That’s the best thing for the future of Israel, and for everyone else.

is an award-winning Jewish feminist author, anthropologist and educator. Follow her on Substack at The Roar.

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