Analysis |

The Message Behind Netanyahu's Silence in the Face of Bereaved Parents' Shouts

The bitter and embarrassing exchange in the Knesset will soon be forgotten, along with the point of the meeting: Avoiding the same mistakes in the next Gaza war

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces bereaved parents in a Knesset committee meeting on the 2014 Gaza war. Credit: Lior Mizrahi
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

An embarrassing circus is the only way to describe the angry verbal exchange between bereaved parents and Likud Knesset members during Wednesday’s discussion by the State Control Committee of the state comptroller’s report on the 2014 Gaza war. This emotional confrontation naturally dominated the television news, but also destroyed any chance — if there ever was one — of holding a substantive discussion about the comptroller’s conclusions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t join in the fight with the bereaved parents; he treated them with due respect. But it’s hard to distance him from the conduct of his coarse sycophants, who crossed yet another red line. When his bureau depicts leading journalists like Ilana Dayan and Raviv Drucker as liars and dubs Education Minister Naftali Bennnett the political partner of the left-wing New Israel Fund, it’s not surprising that coalition whip David Bitan could scream “liar” at a bereaved father.

Had left-wing MKs, not to mention Arab ones, behaved in such a manner, it’s not hard to imagine how Netanyahu’s office would have responded. But this time, he didn’t take decisive action to intervene.

Only Wednesday evening did his aides tell journalists that the conduct of Bitan and MK Miki Zohar — who also attacked the parents —had been “unnecessary.” That belated and weak criticism raises the question of whether Netanyahu really objected to the Likud MKs’ outburst, or whether, as in other instances, he is sending different messages to different audiences.

During the televised debate Netanyahu seemed distant, almost disengaged, from the discussion of the report. And when he did go into detail, he wasn’t terribly accurate. He said Hamas’ military wing was “on its knees” begging for a cease-fire at the end of the war, but as MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) pointed out, Israel was the one that agreed to 12 previous cease-fire proposals which Hamas rejected.

J'Accuse: Ilan Sagi, a bereaved father, addresses coalition members in a Knesset meeting on the 2014 Gaza war. Credit: Lior Mizrahi

Netanyahu also promised that the security cabinet would soon discuss the Amidror-Ciechanover Committee’s recommendations for changing the way the security cabinet and the National Security Council operate based on the lessons learned from this war. The committee was set up last June and submitted its recommendations in December, Netanyahu is taking his time.

His attitude toward the comptroller’s report can also be judged by another fact. While the law mandates that the government collect and publish reports on its efforts to correct the problems cited by the comptroller — and a High Court of Justice ruling reaffirmed this last May — nothing has been done toward that end.

Netanyahu did say a few important things during Wednesday’s debate. He said his job is to prevent the next war, and that he’s unwilling to take unnecessary risks that could lead to war. He added that he had sought to avoid the war that erupted in 2014.

Nevertheless, the committee’s meeting will likely be remembered as one largely devoid of content that only caused more offense and pain to the parents of soldiers killed during the war.

Last summer, when the comptroller’s harsh conclusions about how Netanyahu and the security cabinet performed during the war were leaked from the draft report, a political uproar ensued. Netanyahu quickly scheduled a series of meetings with journalists to present his defense.

But since then, the report has been published and quickly forgotten, and the political damage it caused Netanyahu has proven slight.

The parents’ cries resounded from the television news broadcasts, but the scandal will apparently end there; by Thursday, the media and the public will have moved on to other issues. What remains is the fear that the mistakes made in the summer of 2014 will be repeated if Israel and Hamas embark on another war in Gaza.

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