On January 26, the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza—as well as to punish any public incitements to genocide and to preserve any evidence related to acts of genocide.

That might all seem needless to say, but the order was in response to a case filed at the world court by South Africa in late December—a high-profile illustration of the swing in global sentiment against Israel since the Hamas attacks of October 7.

Within the country, the assault and its fallout have upended public life: Hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists have been called up into the military; many Israeli businesses have slowed operations; and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has invited former opposition parties to join a national-emergency government. Meanwhile, Netanyahu—the head of Israel’s government for all but a year and a half of the last decade and a half—has seen his approval ratings drop around 30 points, to 15 percent, since the conflict began. What do all these changes mean for Israel and its position in the world?

Natan Sachs is the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. To Sachs, it may be easy to see that Israel’s response to the October 7 attacks has opened a great divide between how most Israelis and how many abroad see the country’s military campaign in Gaza—but it’s harder to understand the causes and consequences of this divide. A majority of Israelis believe the war is not only justified but a proportionate reaction to an existential threat. And the trauma of October 7 has left many of them demanding greater security, while feeling less receptive to global criticism of what they’re doing to achieve it.

This enormous gap in perspective between Israelis and their country’s critics, Sachs says, is enabling dangerous simplifications of the conflict, on both sides and beyond—as shallow narratives about who’s right and who’s wrong impede potential solutions to the conflict’s hardest problems.

Michael Bluhm: How’s the war affecting public opinion in Israel?

James Kemp

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