‘Cynicism and demagoguery’: Hostage families clash with Smotrich, MKs in Knesset

Finance minister wonders aloud if families would sacrifice 20 other civilians for loved ones, as UTJ lawmaker accuses relative of wanting ‘to make it political, to kick Bibi out’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Relatives of Israelis held hostage in the Gaza Strip challenge Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, June 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Relatives of Israelis held hostage in the Gaza Strip challenge Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, June 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Relatives of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip confronted Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and other lawmakers in the Knesset on Monday morning, leading to harsh exchanges and in one case the expulsion of the daughter-in-law of a man who died in Hamas captivity.

Challenging Smotrich during a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee, some family members complained that they had been waiting eight months for a meeting with him and said that they felt their loved ones had been abandoned.

Pushing back against the heated criticism, Smotrich, who later walked out of the meeting, decried what he called “cynicism and demagoguery.”

Asked what price a hostage’s life was worth, Smotrich further accused relatives of yelling, prompting vehement recriminations.

Speaking over the families, who criticized his opposition to a hostage deal, Smotrich replied “What deal? Is there a deal that Hamas agrees to accept? Do you know of one? I will not support the deal in question; the question is if there is a deal at all.

“Let’s say [Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya] Sinwar asks, for every living hostage who returns home to you, for us to give him 20 of the inhabitants of the Gaza border area for him to kill,” Smotrich said. “Is that a fitting price…” he began before being cut off by angry families who objected to his suggestion as ridiculous.

He then went on: “We released Sinwar in the [2011] Shalit deal and to this day buried 1,500 Jews because we released one man in the Shalit deal… Releasing hundreds of murderers with blood on their hands, God forbid, could lead to the murder of many Jews.”

Smotrich and far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir have said they will not agree to a deal with Hamas that ends the war in exchange for the release of hostages, and have threatened to bring down the government if such a deal is adopted by the government.

Hamas has anyway signaled it will likely reject the latest proposal for a hostage-ceasefire deal, claiming it was fundamentally different from the version of the deal presented publicly by US President Joe Biden earlier this month.

In response to Smotrich, the families chanted the Talmudic saying: “Whoever saves one soul, it is as if he saved the whole world.”

At the same time, during a meeting of the Committee for Public Petitions, United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Pindrus accused one hostage’s mother of trying to politicize the situation to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There are bereaved families here. You want to make it political, you want to kick Bibi out,” Pindrus said, using the premier’s nickname. “There are people who are in a bad situation and we are trying to help them.”

Pindrus’s comment came as Esther Buchshtav, whose son Yagev Buchshtav was taken hostage from Kibbutz Nirim on October 7, tried to speak.

Buchshtav asked that the Haredi lawmaker apologize for his comment, stating that she “didn’t come to talk politics.” No apology was forthcoming.

“I came here as the mother of Yagev Buchshtav who is a hostage in Gaza,” she said. “My heart is with the families of those who were murdered. I am not here to speak against them.”

Meanwhile, in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, chairman Simcha Rothman ordered Ayala Metzger — whose father-in-law Yoram Metzger, 80, was declared killed in Hamas captivity on June 3 — removed from the chamber after she disturbed the proceedings.

Metzger repeatedly interrupted Tzvika Mor, whose son Eitan was taken hostage during the attack on the Nova rave, as he tried to address the committee.

“I have never removed the family of a hostage from the room and I really ask you not to force the ushers to take such action, but there is a relative of a hostage here who is speaking and anyone who disturbs will leave immediately,” Rothman threatened, before ordering Metzger’s ejection.

Monday’s clashes came a week after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir moved his far-right Otzma Yehudit party’s faction meeting to another location to exclude hostages’ relatives who showed up at the weekly gathering — sparking a sit-in on the floor of the Knesset.

Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza and activists protest against Head of the Otzma Yehudit party and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir outside his faction meeting at the Knesset, June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Asked why he declined to allow the relatives into the meeting and switched locations, Ben Gvir told reporters at the time that he has met with hostage families and will continue to do so, but that doing so in front of the cameras constituted “populism.”

Since the beginning of the war, hostages’ families have regularly roamed the halls of the Knesset, lobbying for measures to ensure the safe return of their loved ones.

Speaking with The Times of Israel last month, Udi Goren, the cousin of hostage Tal Haimi, said: “We will be seeing the families of the hostages going to the Knesset at least once a week and appearing in the committees to make sure that nothing is done and no topic is dealt with before speaking about the hostages, which is still the most important topic on the Israeli agenda.”

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