Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Friday said he was “disgusted” by the behavior of two of his fellow Likud lawmakers who yelled at the bereaved relatives of fallen soldiers during a heated Knesset committee meeting on Wednesday.
Likud lawmakers David Bitan and Miki Zohar got in a screaming match with the families of the slain IDF troops at a Knesset meeting, for which they were subsequently lambasted by the Prime Minster’s Office. Zohar on Friday apologized for his comments, aimed at Lea Goldin, whose son’s remains are being held by Hamas in Gaza. Bitan, meanwhile, was seen embracing the father whom he had branded a “liar,” shortly after the Knesset hearing.
“I spoke with Eli Ben Shem, the head of Yad Labanim [an organization which supports families of fallen soldiers],” Edelstein wrote on Facebook, “and expressed my deep sadness and disgust at the unnecessary and unfortunate remarks made” during the public debate about the government’s management of the 2014 Gaza war.
“The gates of the Knesset and the hearts of elected officials were and will remain open to the bereaved families and we will continue to link our arms with theirs forever,” Edelstein posted.
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday that the parents lambasted during the hearing were demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Edelstein issue a clear denunciation of Bitan and Zohar. And while the two Likud MKs have asked for a meeting with the parents to smooth things over, “the families say they are not ready for that.”
Edelstein’s comments followed unprecedented scenes at a special Knesset State Control Committee attended by Netanyahu to debate a damning state comptroller report, published February, which found serious failures by the military and government ahead of and during the 50-day conflict, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
During the hearing, bereaved parents of soldiers who were killed during the operation emotionally criticized the government and its leader. The two Likud Knesset members shouted back at them, with Bitan branding one parent “a liar.”
The confrontation dominated news reports for several hours, with Israel’s most-watched nightly broadcast, on Channel 2, opening with the assertion: “The legislature today broke an unwritten law of public governance in the state of Israel: You do not get into confrontations with bereaved parents.”
Referring to Bitan during the discussion, Ilan Sagi — whose son Erez was killed when terrorists emerged from a tunnel and attacked his pillbox near Nahal Oz — said he had stood outside the Prime Minister’s Office holding a sign asking for an inquiry into the failures of the Gaza war.
“This big wise guy comes along, the one who talks the most [Bitan], and he tells me, ‘Go, this won’t help. You said that!’” Sagi claimed, looking at Bitan.
“You are a liar! I have never spoken with you!” Bitan, who serves as coalition chairman, shouted back at him in the middle of the meeting. “Stop exploiting this to lie here!”
In another tense moment, Goldin, whose son Hadar’s remains are being held by Hamas along with those of fellow soldier Oron Shaul, charged that Netanyahu had turned the bereaved families into “enemies of the people… You have turned the problem of returning the boys into a problem of the families,” she said.
Miki Zohar retorted that her claims were exaggerated.
“Don’t answer me, what cheek!” cried Goldin, throwing a plastic cup in his direction. “I don’t even know your name,” she said.
Bitan later said, “When a man says to me things that I didn’t say, in order to hurt me — I saw it as something I couldn’t ignore.”
But he conceded, “Maybe I went too far.”
After the meeting ended, Bitan was seen embracing Sagi. “I had to respond. After that we made up. We apologized to one another and everything’s OK,” Channel 10 News quoted him as saying.
Zohar told Army Radio that he had not expected such a critical reaction to what he had said.
“I must say that Mrs. Goldin paid the dearest price that a citizen can pay to his country, she lost her son,” he told the Ynet news site. “I respect her [Lea Goldin] and apologize if she was offended by what I said.”