Israeli Defense Chief Accuses Left-wing Meretz of ‘Representing Palestinian Interests’

Party head Tamar Zandberg called for an independent investigation into killing of Palestinians on Gaza border, saying it would help Israel in planning responses to future demonstrations

A Palestinian protester hurls stones toward Israeli soldiers during a protest near the Gaza border with Israel, March 31, 2018.
Khalil Hamra/AP

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has charged Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg with representing Palestinian rather than Israeli interests over her call for an investigation into the killing of Palestinian protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to Israel Radio on Sunday morning, Lieberman said, “We will not cooperate with any investigation committee; this is a show of hypocrisy. I regret that even in the State of Israel, Israeli citizens join these calls,” he said.

He added, “Meretz has long stopped representing Israeli interests and does not belong to the State of Israel. They represent the Palestinian interest in the Knesset.”

Lieberman also said that the Palestinian march on Friday was a failure for Hamas: “They reached a little more than 40,000 people, 90 percent of whom were Hamas people and Hamas officials and their families that were obliged to come. Ordinary people did not come.” The defense minister said that any other country would have responded to an attack on its sovereignty with even more extreme measures, and added that “at least 11 of those killed we know for certain were significant terror activists.”

Zionist Union lawmakers also lambasted Zandberg. Yoel Hasson, chairman of the party’s Knesset faction, tweeted Saturday that “there was nothing to investigate, the IDF is doing what’s necessary to defend the Gaza border,” referring to the Israel Defense Forces. Lawmaker Hilik Bar tweeted to Zandberg: “Really, Tamar? I don’t see such incidents happening in Ramallah, where the leadership doesn’t use its civilians as a human shield for a murderous agenda of those who want to live here instead of us and not alongside us,” and exhorted her to “leave the IDF alone.”

Their colleague Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin hinted that Zandberg was undermining the army. “A baby in the hands of a terrorist is a terrible picture that the terrorists from Hamas put before the world.” She added that the international community should be investigating the use of civilians as “unwilling soldiers by a terror group,” and that “we will push for a solution to the distress in Gaza but not by delegitimizing IDF soldiers.”

Lawmaker Rachel Azaria of Kulanu defended the army’s reaction to the protests on Twitter, saying that they were taken in order to “prevent deterioration to another round of violence,” and to make it possible for Israelis to celebrate the Passover holiday in peace. “Tamar, you’re confused,” she added.

In an interview with Army Radio on Sunday morning, Zandberg responded to her critics, saying that an independent internal investigation was in Israel’s interest and would help in planning responses to future demonstrations. “There is nothing more patriotic than truly seeking an end to this almost endless conflict. Hamas is a despicable terror organization that can have a major interest in terror and casualties. The question is whether we have to be dragged into a scenario written for us, or if it’s our role to see what our interest is. Does being dragged into this violence protect the interests of the people living near the Gaza border and the inhabitants of Israel in general?”

The United Nations and the European Union both called for an investigation into the killing of 15 Palestinians and the wounding of hundreds more on the Gaza border Friday. “The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

The UN Security Council met Friday night at Kuwait’s request for an emergency session following the events. Senior UN official Tayé-Brook Zerihoun said that “Israel must meet its obligations to protect human rights according to international law and that Israel should shoot to kill deadly force only as a last resort.”