Eisenkot, Gantz pan coalition colleagues for event championing Gaza resettlement

War cabinet minister Gantz says conference harms Israel’s international standing; Education Minister Kisch and Welfare Minister Margi join in criticizing right-wing gathering

War cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot speaks to Channel 12's Uvda program in a segment that aired January 18, 2024. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
War cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot speaks to Channel 12's Uvda program in a segment that aired January 18, 2024. (Channel 12 screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

War cabinet observer Gadi Eisenkot (National Unity) issued sharp criticism of ministers and coalition MKs who took part in a right-wing conference on Sunday night that called for Israel to resettle the Gaza Strip at the end of the war with Hamas, adding his voice to a chorus of criticism from both opposition and coalition lawmakers.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity party, sniped at Netanyahu over his public silence about the event. Other ministers, opposition lawmakers, and the family members of hostages held in the Gaza Strip also scorned the gathering.

In a statement posted to X, formerly Twitter, on Monday, Eisenkot, a former IDF chief of staff, wrote that those who attended the conference — and in particular the elected officials — “have not learned a single thing from the events of the past year, about the importance of actions with a broad national consensus and solidarity in Israeli society.”

“While troops are fighting shoulder to shoulder in a war of unparalleled justification, and while we are choosing to look for what unites us, even if there are disagreements… others are finding time for an event that sunders Israeli society, increases distrust in the government and its elected officials, and above all, sharpens divisions over that which brings us together,” added Eisenkot, whose son and nephew were both killed in the fighting in Gaza.

Gantz said in a statement the conference “harms Israeli society at a time of war, harms our international legitimacy, harms effort to establish a framework for returning our hostages.”

He added that he had “warned the prime minister before the conference” against it.

“Those who danced and caused division [at the conference] don’t make the decisions, and those who remain silent and are being led along, are not leaders,” he said, in apparent reference to Netanyahu.

Gantz said he had also spoken with Netanyahu about firebrand Likud MK Tally Gotliv, who backed the conference and who has pushed baseless conspiracy theories about the war, raising with the prime minister the lawmaker’s continued membership in the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“She must be removed from her role,” Gantz said. “I know there are many in the public who are hurt by such behavior. I know there are many on the frontlines who are hurt by it.”

Minister Benny Gantz attends a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on October 28, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The conference in Jerusalem was a boisterous affair, with thousands of attendees from the religious Zionist community in attendance, as well as 11 cabinet ministers and 15 coalition MKs.

Several of the lawmakers who addressed the event, including far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, spoke about “encouraging voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from Gaza, as well as resettling the Strip, which Israel withdrew from in 2005. Participants broke into singing and dancing, with Ben Gvir among those seen joining the celebrations.

It came as Israel is in the midst of a war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip sparked when the Palestinian terror group led a cross-border October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The thousands of attackers who breached the border also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages in Gaza, where most remain captive.

War cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot speaks at the funeral of his son Gal, in Herzliya on December 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In response to Eisenkot, National Missions and Settlement Minister Orit Strock, of the Religious Zionism party, said that “Minister Eisenkot is allowed to have his opinions, and so are we.”

“The goals of the war, which were defined by a very broad consensus, have not changed,” wrote Strock. “Beyond broad agreements, it is permitted and encouraged for public representatives to hold different opinions.

Despite maintaining that Israel is not seeking to resettle the Gaza Strip or to encourage “voluntary emigration” of Palestinians from the enclave, Netanyahu did not condemn the presence of senior government officials at Sunday evening’s event.

Responding to Gantz, Likud said in a statement that it is a “democratic party and in Israel, there is freedom of speech, including for the right-wing, even if there is someone who doesn’t like it.”

It added that Netanyahu “already made it clear that decisions that carry are made in the cabinet and by the government.”

Minister Chili Tropper, also of National Unity, called the participation of coalition ministers and lawmakers in the conference “reckless behavior,” telling Army Radio the messages coming out of the gathering calling for the emigration of Palestinians and settlements in Gaza are “irresponsible and harm the war effort.”

Education Minister Yoav Kisch also spoke out against those who attended, whose numbers included six fellow Likud members.

Speaking to Army Radio on Monday morning, Kisch said he believed that it was a mistake to hold the event.

“It’s not appropriate to get into this conversation now. This isn’t the time. We need to focus the discourse on unity for our troops.”

Echoing that sentiment, Welfare Minister Ya’akov Margi of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party told Haredi radio station Kol Berama that people needed to show more restraint during “a very sensitive time.”

“Right now, our best sons are deep in the Gaza Strip and are suffering,” the Haredi minister said. “Elected officials need to understand the magnitude of the hour, understand the magnitude of their roles and the meaning of the titles they bear.”

At a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid said Netanyahu’s silence on the matter “loudly says one thing: ‘Let the whole country burn, what matters is that I stay in power’.”

Lapid also scorned the celebrations seen at the conference saying “Our troops are freezing in Gaza and they are dancing. Hundreds of thousands of families are in a panic over every ring at the door, [lest it bring bad news] and they are dancing.”

Government ministers and coalition MKs dance during a conference promoting the construction of Israeli settlements in Gaza, at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, January 28, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In an earlier statement, Lapid said the government had “reached a new low,” and called the presence of Likud politicians at the event “a disgrace to Netanyahu and to a party that was once at the center of the national camp and is now trailing helplessly behind the extremists.”

He warned that the conference could further harm Israel’s standing internationally, as well as endanger the chances of the October 7 hostages still held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

Hawkish opposition MK Avigdor Liberman, who leads the right-wing Yisrael Beytanu party, panned the conference as “hallucinatory” and a Likud election gambit.

Opposition Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli said of the conference participants that they “are spitting in the face of all Israeli citizens, they are spitting the face of the United States.”

There was also criticism from family members of the October 7 victims.

Merav Svirsky, whose parents were killed on October 7, and whose brother Itay was taken hostage and then killed in Gaza, participated in a Knesset committee meeting, Haaretz reported, where she puzzled “I don’t understand how 12 ministers were at that conference instead of being busy with the most important thing, the lives of kidnapped citizens.”

Meanwhile, Carmit Palty Katzir, whose father was murdered during the Hamas attack, and whose brother Elad is a hostage, told the Kan public broadcaster “At a time when we, the families of hostages and the entire people are not breathing out of sorrow and grief, they are dancing?”

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