Bennett storms out of TV interview after feud with host over rocket statistics

Channel 12 says defense minister left studio after refusing to address his inaccurate statistics on Gaza missiles; he claims interviewer trying to hurt his party ahead of election

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (L) walks out of an interview with Channel 12's Rina Matzliah on February 28, 2020. (Screen capture: Channel 12)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (L) walks out of an interview with Channel 12's Rina Matzliah on February 28, 2020. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett cut short a television interview ahead of next week’s general elections over what the network said Friday was his refusal to address statistics he recently cited on rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

In a clip from the interview, which will be broadcast Saturday, Channel 12’s Rina Matzliah can be heard asking Bennett to look at a graphic comparing official statistics on rocket fire from Gaza to those mentioned by Bennett in an interview earlier this month.

In that interview, which was also with Matzliah, Bennett, head of the Yamina alliance of right-wing parties, said there had been an 80 percent drop in the number of rockets launched from Gaza in the three months since he became defense minister, compared to the three months before his appointment in November.

“The last time you were here you called me ignorant because I’m not accurate with statistics,” Matzliah said in the clip aired Friday. “So here I’m showing you statistics from the IDF spokesperson.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is interviewed by Channel 12’s Rina Matzliah on February 28, 2020. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

According to the graphic, there were 33 rockets fired from the start of August until November 12, when Bennett officially took the reins as defense chief. Between that date and February 15, the date of the earlier interview, 34 rockets were launched.

The latter figures did not include “Operation Black Belt,” a massive battle with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza during Bennett’s first two days on the job that saw hundreds of rockets fired at Israel.

“No, no, no, I said you’re ignorant and mistaken. Just a second, now you’re distorting,” Bennett told Matzliah. “I said you’re ignorant for asking me about administrative detentions for left-wing people.”

As Bennett began to recall what he had said in the earlier interview, Matzliah asked for the graphic to be put back up on the screen.

“Did I come here so you could stop Yamina and catch me on small-time issues?” Bennett responded, referring to his national-religious party. “If this is an ambush, we’ll finish now.”

Matzliah then asked for the graphic to again be put on the screen.

“This is the interview? Friends, thank you very much,” Bennett said in the clip as he removed his microphone. “It’s over.”

“If this is what you want to do [at Channel 12], thank you,” he continued, as Matzliah repeatedly responded “I have no problem” with ending the interview.

Before getting up, Bennett turned directly to the camera to accuse Matzliah of a political motivation.

“See here is an interviewer who only wants to hurt us and stop us. No one will stop Yamina,” he said.

Matzliah then responded to Bennett as he walked out of the studio.

“You’re dealing with a journalist, not Hezbollah. I hope that as defense minister you don’t lose your cool like this during security deliberations,” she said.

Channel 12’s Rina Matzliah interviews Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on February 28, 2020. (Screen capture: Channel 12)

After the release of the clip, Bennett posted a video to Twitter comparing Matzliah’s confrontational approach with him to what he asserted was her soft handling of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

Israel goes to the polls for a third time in less than a year on Monday, with Yamina projected to win 8-9 Knesset seats.

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