This Israeli hostage mother supported Netanyahu. Now she wants him gone.


TEL AVIV — When Einav Zangauker’s son was dragged into Gaza on Oct. 7, she trusted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would do everything possible to bring him home.

For two months, she barely ventured outside, refusing to meet with public figures, paralyzed by the fear that voicing her anguish could endanger her son’s release.

“I thought, Netanyahu is ‘Mr. Security,’ he’s delivered Israel through many wars,” she recalled. “I thought, I believe in him and I need to give him a chance.”

Her patience has long since run out. After months of failed diplomacy aimed at freeing the more than 100 captives still held by Hamas — “dozens” are still alive, Israeli officials say, though no one knows exactly how many — Zangauker has been at the forefront of swelling anti-government protests, uniting disillusioned hostage families and their supporters. They believe Netanyahu is torpedoing a deal to return their loved ones and end the war in Gaza — and must be driven from power.

The movement plans to ramp up its “disruption” efforts in the coming weeks, hoping to topple the government before the Israeli parliament ends its summer session on July 28. It is just one in a series of crises converging on Netanyahu, who faces competing pressures from the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties who make up his coalition. If his government survives, it will not convene again until late October.

Zangauker believes this is the last chance to save her son, 24-year-old Matan. Since his parents divorced at a young age, he has helped his mother run the house and, in recent years, cared for his younger sister, who has a debilitating nerve disease.

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“This is the mission of my life,” Zangauker told The Post on a recent afternoon in a Tel Aviv cafe, near the bridge where she addresses tens of thousands of Israeli demonstrators nearly every Saturday night.

“I will do everything possible to take back the mandate that I gave Netanyahu,” she said. “I have nothing to lose.”

Zangauker is the face of an unprecedented fissure in Netanyahu’s base, which has seen him through countless controversies and made him the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history.

“The psychological concept in which Netanyahu was considered the only option for head of state has been broken,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist from Hebrew University, pointing to polls that show a more than 20-point drop among his core supporters since Oct. 7.

Sixty-six percent of Israelis do not want Netanyahu to contest the next elections, including 37 percent from his own Likud party, according to a poll published Friday by Israel’s Channel 12. A majority also said they believe he is “abandoning the hostages.”

In a bid to keep his faltering government afloat, critics fear Netanyahu could capitulate to his far-right coalition partners, who are excluded from war decisions but have been lobbying for fringe policies like an Israeli reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.

Such “delusional, messianic” ideas could further endanger her son, Zangauker believes.

“If Sinwar hears this and Matan is next to him, he will slit his throat open,” she said, a reference to Yehiya Sinwar, Hamas’s military chief, believed by Israel’s military to be in hiding in subterranean tunnels, surrounded by dozens of Israeli hostages.

Zangauker’s dark hair frames a gaunt face and sunken eyes. She smokes instead of eating. She hasn’t cooked a meal since Oct. 6, when she hosted Matan and his girlfriend, Ilana Gritzewsky, for their weekly Friday night dinner, a family tradition.

Though she struggles each night to shut her eyes, she refuses to take sleeping pills, saying she needs to remain “sharp” for her mission.

She has met twice with Netanyahu, who has said for months that returning the hostages is a top goal, though not the top goal, which he describes as “total victory” against Hamas — an objective even Israeli military officials have conceded is out of reach.

When she was face-to-face with the prime minister, she was shocked by his attempts at “deception,” she said, brushing off her desperate pleas for information. When Zangauker last met him before the Jewish holiday of Passover, she asked if she should set a place for Matan at the table. “The state of Israel is doing everything it can to return the hostages,” she remembers him saying.

When he refused to elaborate, she erupted in anger. He apologized that she was hurt but said her ire was misdirected, Zangauker said.

Netanyahu did not ask the relatives to tell stories about their loved ones, she said, as they have in meetings with other officials. Instead, he delivered a “monologue about his own leadership, about Yoni,” she said, referring to Netanyahu’s older brother, who was killed in an iconic hostage rescue in the 1970s.

She and the other hostage families fumed again at the end of the meeting, when Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, entered the room and sat quietly, watching. In January, Sara Netanyahu told another group of hostage families that public criticism of her husband’s handling of the war undermined Israel’s leverage against Hamas.

The prime minister’s office declined to comment on the meeting.

With Israel close to wrapping up military operations in the southern city of Rafah and the war in Gaza potentially entering a new phase, Zangauker worries Netanyahu will continue to resist a hostage deal in favor of rescue missions.

The IDF has rescued only seven hostages alive during the war, including four last month in a bold and bloody raid in central Gaza. But it was unrealistic to expect similar missions could rescue the remaining captives, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said last month, especially since many are believed to have been moved from aboveground homes to Hamas’s expansive tunnel network.

“Will you send 18-year-old soldiers into booby-trapped tunnels, just to be killed?” Zangauker wondered, addressing Netanyahu. “Without a deal, you’re sentencing the hostages to death.”

Netanyahu has always relied on voters like Zangauker: working-class Jews with roots in North Africa and the Middle East who reject liberalism and view themselves as Israeli patriots.

Zangauker is a single mother of Moroccan descent from Ofakim, a southern town built for immigrants that has historically been a Likud stronghold. She always voted for Netanyahu, and she was proud to do it. She bragged when she and her daughter appeared in one of his election campaign live streams.

A year ago, as angry Israelis filled the streets warning that Netanyahu’s move to undermine the courts threatened the country’s democracy, she sided with the police cavalry, cheering as they hosed down protesters with water cannons.

“I thought … they deserved it,” Zangauker said. “I didn’t understand what they were doing. I didn’t ask questions. And now I’m there” — on those same streets, facing off against the same police.

Around 30 hostage families have joined the anti-government protests; others demonstrate more quietly at the Tel Aviv plaza now known as “Hostage Square.” Former Likud supporters with children held in Gaza have called to say they are praying for Matan, she said. But they are too afraid to join her.

“They don’t have the courage,” Zangauker said. “I tell them, I am not angry at you for not going out.”

But she has paid a price for opposing Netanyahu. Old neighbors have accused her of exploiting her son as a “political card,” of “disgracing” her people.

Zangauker no longer cares. She has received no information on Matan since the morning of Oct. 7, when she got him on the phone as he held the handle of the door to the bedroom he shared with Ilana. It was also their safe room. In the background, Zangauker said, she heard shooting, the roar of motorcycles and shouts in Arabic as militants overran their kibbutz of Nir Oz.

“I love you, please don’t cry,” Matan told his mother.

Minutes later, as gunmen approached, he and Ilana jumped out of their bedroom window. They were abducted separately. It took 10 days for the Israeli government to declare Zangauker a hostage. Two months later, on Nov. 30, Ilana was among 105 captives released during a week-long cease-fire with Hamas.

Ilana, still recovering from an injured jaw, a broken pelvis and partial hearing loss, has joined Zangauker on the streets.

She makes sure that Matan’s two sisters — “left without a functioning mother,” Zangauker said — are fed and taken care of.

In January, Zangauker, Ilana and Matan’s sisters set up a tent in the rain outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea. In February, they stood together as police blasted them with water cannons. They have met with, and confronted, politicians in the halls and committee rooms of the Knesset, pleading with them to secure a deal.

During a recent Saturday night demonstration, in her first public speech, Ilana spoke about the horrors of captivity and the agonizing confusion of her return to Israel.

“Not a single minister bothered to call and ask about me,” she told the crowd. When she finished, shaking, she ran into Zangauker’s arms.

The women have plans for when Matan returns home. She and Ilana will go on a long trip abroad, Zangauker laughed. Then Matan and Ilana will get married.

“We won’t even ask him!” she joked.

Her smile faded quickly, though, as she added that she was ready for a long road ahead.

“We will be doing this for twenty years,” she said, if that’s what it takes. “We will not allow this to be normalized.”

Lior Soroka contributed to this report.



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