A Man Rises, and Becomes a Protest Movement
The Yom Kippur War was a breaking point for the Israeli public. It was abundantly clear that "something wasn't right", or as in an Israeli saying of the time, "the business didn't run as it should have." When the ceasefire was reached on the 24th of October, 1973, the criticism from the public sphere intensified. The turmoil among the Israeli public gradually came to a boil. The reservists remained at their posts and on the Syrian border, occasional flare-ups required the mobilization of substantial IDF forces. In the meantime, in December, 1973, elections for the Knesset, postponed due to the war, were finally held. Their results left Golda Meir at the head of the government. This was perceived as a continuation of the status quo.
Captain Motti Ashkenazi Starts a Lone Protest
In February of 1974, Captain Motti Ashkenazi, a commander at the "Budapest" IDF outpost on the Suez Canal, was released from reserve duty. Ashkenazi had experienced the terrible conditions there on the eve of the war. The neglect, indifference and the lack of preparation for the possibility of an Egyptian attack had worried Ashkenazi greatly. He had alerted his superiors to this, but his warnings weren't taken seriously. When the war broke out, Ashkenazi found himself leading his men under heavy, sustained fire throughout the whole war. The outpost withstood the onslaught but paid a heavy price in dead, wounded and prisoners of war. When Ashkenazi returned to civilian life he was steadfast in publicizing his criticisms. He began a one-man protest demanding the resignation of the Minister of Defense, Moshe Dayan, and called for the administration to take responsibility for what was referred to as "The Fiasco". Ashkenazi announced a 48 hour hunger strike and stood in protest in front of the Prime Minister's Office in the cold and rainy Jerusalem winter.
The Agranat Commission vs. an Enraged Public
In the meantime, as early as the 21st of November, 1973, a governmental investigative commission, led by the President of the Supreme Court, Justice Agranat, began to investigate the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. The commission was tasked with investigating the IDF's readiness for the war, the use of information on the eve of the war and the military movements before the holding action was implemented, on the third day of the war. Public opinion was divided. There were those who thought that the blame should be placed on the military alone. However, the bulk of public opinion tended to place the blame on the Minister of Defense, or even the whole government.
A One-Man Protest Become a Mass Movement
Motti Ashkenazi saw all the leaders as responsible for the "The Fiasco". His one-man protest began to draw others: reservists who had been released from the army as well as citizens from all walks of life. What began as the protest of one reserve officer became a huge public movement that couldn't be ignored. The word "failure", which connoted blame, abandonment, indifference and mockery, was still in the air. In addition, there were unending calls for the ministers to begin to take political responsibility for the failures.
The Protest Shakes Up the Leadership
On the 1st of April 1974, the Agranat Commission presented an interim report which placed heavy blame on the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Eli Zeira, and the commander of the Intelligence Directorate's Research Department, Aryeh Shalev, as well as the head of IDF Southern Command, Shmuel Gonen and IDF Chief of Staff, David Elazar. The Agranat Commission didn't find fault with Moshe Dayan and even praised the Prime Minister, Golda Meir. The public protest didn't die down, though; it just got stronger. Ashkenazi's insistence that the responsibility for "The Fiasco" was political seemed more relevant than ever.
The protest did what it set out to do. According to the demands of the Agranat Commission, IDF Chief of Staff Elazar resigned and Generals Zeira and Gonen were dismissed from their posts in the IDF. The protest even brought about the fall of Golda Meir's government. The government that was established afterwards, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, did not include Moshe Dayan.
Public Unrest Continues
It should be noted that while the protest against the political sector and the high command of the IDF was indeed the most widespread and prominent response to the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli public was also up in arms for other reasons. For instance, a few days after the declaration of the ceasefire, a protest began against the early release of prisoners of war captured by the IDF. The protesters were concerned that if Israel gave up its bargaining chips too early, the captured IDF soldiers would be mistreated. In addition, there was a feeling among the Israeli public that, due to the internal unrest, Israel was in grave danger. These feelings gave rise to a number of political and public organizations that demanded to investigate the events of the war, and were part of the widespread turmoil in Israeli society in the weeks and days after the ceasefire. Looking back, it seems that the Yom Kippur War was a watershed moment in relation to public opinion and public protest in the State of Israel. The voice of the public – a voice bearing questions and criticism, demands and protests – was now being heard.