More than 40 senior former Israeli national security officials, celebrated scientists and prominent business leaders have sent a letter to Israel’s president and speaker of parliament demanding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be removed from office for posing what they say is an “existential” threat to the country.
The signatories on the letter include four former directors of Israel’s foreign and domestic security services, two former heads of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and three Nobel Prize winners.
The letter blasts the coalition Netanyahu assembled to form the most right-wing government ever in Israel, along with his highly controversial efforts to overhaul Israel’s judiciary that they say led to security lapses that resulted in the October 7 attacks, the deadliest day in Israel’s history.
“We believe that Netanyahu bears primary responsibility for creating the circumstances leading to the brutal massacre of over 1,200 Israelis and others, the injury of over 4,500, and the kidnapping of more than 230 individuals, of whom over 130 are still held in Hamas captivity,” it reads. “The victim’s blood is on Netanyahu’s hands.”
The letter was sent to Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Thursday and to Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana on Friday.
Netanyahu’s popularity has fallen dramatically since starting his sixth term as prime minister, just over a year ago. Critics have blasted his judicial reform efforts – which threatened to trigger a constitutional crisis and divided the country, with months of massive, regular demonstrations.
“Leaders of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas,” the letter says, “openly praised what they correctly saw as a destabilizing and erosive process of Israel’s stability, led by Netanyahu, and seized the opportunity to harm and damage Israel’s security.”
Among the 43 signatories are former IDF chiefs Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Halutz, Tamir Pardo and Danny Yatom, who ran the Mossad intelligence agency, and Nadav Argaman and Yaakov Peri, who were directors of the domestic security service, Shin Bet.
Former CEOs, ambassadors, government officials and three Nobel laureates for chemistry – Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko and Dan Shechtman – also signed the letter.
A poll released this week by Israel’s Channel 13 suggests that Netanyahu’s political party, Likud, would now come in a distant second if elections were held today. The frontrunner in the poll was the National Unity party led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, currently a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet.
The next elections aren’t planned until late 2026, though there have been protests and calls for early elections, including from one of Israel’s main opposition leaders, Yair Lapid.
“The situations that brought Israel to elections beforehand are almost nothing in comparison to what Israel is going through now,” said Haim Tomer, a longtime Mossad officer who retired after heading the agency’s intelligence division and who signed the letter demanding Netanyahu’s removal.
In the past week Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed his opposition to Palestinian sovereignty for security reasons, as Israel’s main ally, the United States, continues to call for a two-state solution.
The letter’s signatories accuse Netanyahu of spending years propping up Hamas in Gaza at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, which the US has argued should be revitalized to govern both the West Bank and Gaza.
To form his current government, Netanyahu brought together other parties well to the right of Likud and assembled the most right-wing government in Israeli history. Two of its most prominent members, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, have been called out by the Biden administration for arguing that Palestinians should leave Gaza.
The letter accuses Netanyahu of refusing to take responsibility for the October 7 attacks, instead “blaming others and inciting against those who had fought to save the Israeli democracy from his destructive actions and plans, and now mobilize whole heartedly to support Israel’s national war efforts.”
It concludes with a plea to the Israeli president and Knesset speaker to replace the prime minister, as well as a warning: “The Israeli nation and Jewish history will not forgive you if you don’t fulfill your utmost national responsibility.”
Neither the president nor the speaker has the power to remove a prime minister from office unilaterally.
The right people need “to get their hands on the steering wheel,” said Tomer, the former Mossad official.
“I think people start to look from the outside towards Israel and ask themselves what happened to this country,” Tomer said. “What’s happened to this country with very, very smart people that are now being led with some idiots?”
“The word that we have been using in the circles that I’ve been participating in is: we need a restart, we need a restart.”
Israel has come under intense international criticism for its war in Gaza, which has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians and displaced almost two million people since the October 7 Hamas attacks.
Israel has repeatedly insisted that its war is not against the Palestinian people but Hamas militants who are holding more than 130 hostages in dire conditions in the war zone.
Netanyahu told a news conference last week that politicians who are asking him to step down are essentially asking for a Palestinian state.
Israel’s actions in Gaza are the subject of a genocide case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), initiated by South Africa that accuses the country’s leadership of intending to “bring about the destruction of its Palestinian population.”
Israel denies the allegations, arguing that the war is being fought in self-defense and that its leadership has not displayed genocidal intent.