Bereaved Families Debate Politicization of Victims' Memory After Knesset Provocation

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
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Religious Zionism party head Betzalel Smotrich gestures with placards during a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 2021.
Religious Zionism party head Betzalel Smotrich gestures with placards during a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 2021.Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

The expulsion of a far-right lawmaker from the Knesset during Naftali Bennett’s final speech before being sworn in as prime minister on Sunday evening angered the families of some terror victims, while others have come out strongly in favor of using images of the dead for political purposes.

During Bennett’s address ahead of the lawmakers' vote of confidence in his government, Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich and MK Orit Strock were ejected from the Knesset hall for yelling “shame” at the prime minister designate while holding pictures of Israelis killed by Palestinians.

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“At least look into the eyes of the victims of terrorism, the people whose killers were hugged by the people you are hugging and forming a government with now. Shame on you,” Smotrich tweeted, in a reference to Bennett’s inclusion of the Arab Islamist Ra’am party in his government, soon after being forcibly removed by Knesset ushers.

In response, Motty Fogel, whose brother Udi and sister-in-law Ruth were murdered along with three of their children in the West Bank settlement of Itamar in 2011, tweeted sarcastically: “Thank God, the day has come when a picture of Udi, Ruthi, Yoav, Elad and Hadas is hoisted to justify the continued rule of a hedonistic crook, a man of fear and hatred. Blessed are you martyrs, you did not die in vain.”

Fogel, who told Haaretz that he found the use of his brother’s family “horrifying,” said that his parents told him that they had not been asked by Smotrich’s office to use a picture of their deceased son.

“They are making terrorism an issue of one political side, saying one side cares and the other doesn’t,” he complained.

Asked about the use of terrorism-related imagery, a spokesman for Smotrich said that “each of the families personally asked to have their voices heard,” including relatives of the Fogels.

One of those relatives is Merav Majaj, whose daughter, 1st Lt. (first lieutenant) Shir Hajaj, was killed along with three other IDF soldiers during a 2017 car ramming attack in Jerusalem.

A longtime Bennett supporter, Hajaj recently turned into a strong critic of the new prime minister’s outreach to Arab politicians.

Speaking to Haaretz, Hajaj explained that she and several other victims’ families belonging to a small group called the “Choosing Life Forum” had turned to Smotrich to request entrance passes for Sunday evening’s vote so that they could voice their displeasure. After being told that they would not be able to attend, the requested that Smotrich and his MKs hold up pictures of their relatives.

“Bennett said he wouldn't sit with Arabs and the left. They hugged terrorists, those who killed our daughter. They don’t have legitimacy,” she said.

“My daughter was murdered. It wasn’t an illness. We have our goal to prevent the murder of other Jews. Yes, use photos of my daughter. Every family should do what they want. They have the right.”

Bezalel Smotrich interrupts Naftali Bennett's speech in the Knesset, Sunday.Credit: Noam Moskowitz/Knesset

Before being expelled, Smotrich also held up a picture of Danny Gonen, who was shot and killed at the Ein Buvin spring in the West Bank in June 2015.

“We wanted to go there and they said there were no entrance so I requested, if I can't be there, (for someone) to hold a picture of my son,” Gonen’s mother Devora told Haaretz.

“If there’s a party that supports terror, I’m against it. There are MKs who are terror supporters sitting in this coalition.”

Gonen asserted that criticism of Smotrich’s actions as politicization of the dead were groundless, saying that “in the end, everything is politics. If I go to Knesset, it’s also political. Politicians now and in the future need to know that my son should have been allowed to return home in peace. He returned in a coffin because he is a Jew.”

“They shouldn't have thrown him out of the Knesset,” Gonen said of Smotrich. “The pictures were so they remember with whom they are sitting, with terror supporters.”

While he said he cannot judge what other bereaved parents choose to do, Seth Mandell, whose 13-year old son Koby was murdered near the West Bank settlement of Tekoa in 2001, described Smotrich’s actions as a sign of “disrespect to the price paid by the terror victims.”

“I have no claim whatsoever on how they choose to remember or memorialize their loved ones but I think it’s disrespectful of other terror victims to use the idea of someone murdered by an enemy because they were Jews for political uses of any type,” he told Haaretz.

“Smotrich did the wrong thing and I am satisfied that he was expelled, which is what a country with honor would do in that situation,” he declared.

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