Herzog slams Liberman over refusal to talk with Hamas of prisoner swap

He said Israel needed to be smart in negotiating such deals, but should not publicly foreclose them.

Isaac Herzog will remain party leader for the time being. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Isaac Herzog will remain party leader for the time being.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Tuesday bashed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman for recent statements that he opposed talks with Hamas for the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
Practically yelling as he spoke to the Israel Bar Association Conference at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, Herzog said he had a message for Liberman: “Stop talking!” The Labor head said officials should not be “causing pain to the families” of the dead soldiers with “bombastic” statements indicating Israel would not try to get their loved ones’ bodies back from Hamas.
There are different versions of what Liberman said on the issue, but he clearly reaffirmed his opposition to any dialogue with terrorist groups, such as Hamas, over deals exchanging Palestinian prisoners for the return of soldiers’ bodies.
Goldin and Shaul were killed and their bodies taken by Hamas during the 2014 Gaza war.
Herzog recalled that the government has tried to get soldiers’ bodies back to their families “since the dawn of the state” and that such an obligation could not be tossed aside so easily.
Israel, he added, needs to be smart in negotiating such deals, but should not publicly rule them out.
Herzog also slammed Liberman’s statements about lawyers having too much influence on the army and comments implying support for Elor Azaria, who is on trial for manslaughter for shooting a nearly motionless Palestinian terrorist in Hebron on March 24.
“We must defend the legal establishment at all costs,” he said.
Liberman has slammed those who assume Azaria’s guilt, even as the IDF prosecution under him has pushed hard to convict the soldier.
He also has attacked his predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon, and by implication IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for rushing to condemn Azaria.
Military Advocate General Brig.-Gen.
Sharon Afek spoke along lines similar to Herzog and addressed criticism of the IDF’s prosecution of Azaria, while carefully avoiding the mention of specific names.
“In recent months, I have heard more than a small amount of criticism that the decisions we made to undertake certain legal proceedings are causing damage to the army and to society; that the prosecution of a criminal case, which is being widely covered and is exposing hard incidents, harms the army’s image, and that maybe it would be better not to have undertaken the judicial proceeding,” he said.
While noting that he respects the right to criticize, Afek said: “Where it appears that a grave crime was committed, it is our responsibility and obligation to investigate and bring the issue to trial.”
With a low-key but determined voice, he stated that this was true, “even when it turns into a heated atmosphere and when the decisions are not always popular.”
The IDF, he concluded, must “remain solid and not deviate from our path.”
Earlier at the conference during a panel discussion on free speech, several panelists and audience members screamed at Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh and his Israeli-Arab Knesset colleagues after he said many Jewish Israelis mischaracterize the free-speech protests of Israeli-Arab MKs as being a danger when really “Jews in the country are the majority and are strong.”
He suggested that Jewish- Israelis need to recognize that they are not being persecuted as Jews were during the exile, but rather are now the dominant power in the country.
Odeh added that he rejects claims that Israeli-Arab MKs need to be more sensitive to Jewish-Israeli concerns in their criticism saying: “The occupation enslaves two nations and not just the Palestinian nation.”
When other panelists alleged that he had not sufficiently condemned Hamas, Odeh responded: “Does anyone here think I am in favor of Hamas?” Odeh was also asked to condemn ISIS, to he said he did because they “kill more Arabs than anyone else” and “are the worst of the worst murderers.”
Much of the debate centered on striking the right balance between freedom of information, privacy rights and free speech on the one hand, with national security concerns on the other.