BEREAVED FATHER Ilan Sagi reacts at the Knesset State Control Committee meeting during a discussion about the Operation Protective Edge report yesterday..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found himself in a lose-lose situation in the Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday – and his attack dogs from the Likud only made it worse.
Faced with crying, bereaved parents who pleaded with him to accept State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s criticism of his performance during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, Netanyahu had two options: demonstrate complete empathy, which would look like an admission of guilt, or argue with the parents, making him look heartless.
Netanyahu has risked taking on a concerned mother before: In 2003, single mother Vicki Knafo famously marched from her home in Mitzpe Ramon to Jerusalem to protest the finance minister’s cuts to child allotments.
But a bereaved mother is different and is a matter of near consensus among Israeli Jews, who overwhelmingly show sympathy and respect for bereaved families.
Compounded with the fact that Netanyahu knows the pain of losing a loved one in battle, the meeting was a recipe for disaster.
In the end, the prime minister chose a sort of middle ground, tiptoeing between the two options, all the while looking pained.
Netanyahu displayed patience and sympathy for the bereaved parents, saying: “From the bottom of my heart, I think about our soldiers, because I was there.”
At the same time, he could be stern when he disagreed with one of them. For example, Netanyahu told Leah Goldin, whose son Hadar’s body is being held by Hamas in Gaza
, that he is willing to make sacrifices to bring him back, but only to a point.
“I have to consider the overall picture,” he explained.
Some in the meeting, however, did not pick up on the social and political cues as Netanyahu did.
Two Likud MKs in the meeting went on the attack when bereaved parents criticized Netanyahu, as though this were any old Knesset meeting.
Coalition chairman David Bitan, known for his temper, called bereaved father Ilan Sagi a liar, and accused the opposition of taking advantage of the bereaved to attack the prime minister. MK Miki Zohar (Likud) shouted down Goldin after she said Netanyahu was making her family out to be “enemies of the state.”
Both incidents led to opposition MKs yelling at Likud MKs, exemplifying the kind of not-so-refined debating culture one often sees in the Knesset. Zionist Union MKs flooded WhatsApp with messages slamming the Likud for disrespecting bereaved families.
While Netanyahu is not one to shy away from debate, he clearly realized that his would-be defenders were doing more harm than good.
“David, you’re helping me again,” the prime minister said archly, in a call-back to when he was caught on tape telling Bitan he can fight his own battles.
Whether it was Netanyahu saying he doesn’t need the extra “help” or the still-strong social stigma against criticizing bereaved families, both Likud MKs backed down in the end.
Zohar released a statement apologizing for hurting Goldin’s feelings, though he said he still disagreed with her, and Bitan hugged and reconciled with Sagi, disseminating a picture of their embrace.
But it was too little, too late. The headlines that made it seem like Likud MKs had turned a delicate matter into a political circus had long been blazing across the top news sites, and the lose-lose situation was, well, a net loss.