Ex-Likud minister says she ‘sinned’ in tearing country apart ahead of Oct. 7 attack

Galit Distel Atbaryan, who resigned her post early in war, admits ‘I created division, and I created tension, and this tension caused a weakness’ in the nation exploited by Hamas

Likud MK Galit Distel-Atbaryan speaks to Channel 13 news in an interview aired on December 31, 2023. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Likud MK Galit Distel-Atbaryan speaks to Channel 13 news in an interview aired on December 31, 2023. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A former minister in the current government offered a rare public apology on Sunday for her role in contributing to the internal strife in Israel over the controversial judicial overhaul before the devastating October 7 attack by Hamas.

“I was part of the group that caused the state to weaken, that harmed people, that harmed citizens who in daily life are my friends, are my partner,” Galit Distel-Atbaryan said in an interview with Channel 13 news about her conduct over the past year.

Distel Atbaryan served as public diplomacy minister in the hard-right government formed a year ago, and was a staunch proponent of the deeply divisive judicial overhaul program, occasionally using strong language to lambaste its critics.

She resigned from her ministerial role days into the ongoing war, acknowledging that her newly created ministry had been unnecessary, powerless and a “waste of public money.” She has since said that she has “burning anger” against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There were about 100 people who drove 9 million toward an abyss — from politics, from the media, social media influencers,” she told Channel 13 news on Sunday about the deep rifts formed among the Israeli population, which she said weakened the nation and helped pave the way to the murderous Hamas onslaught, admitting that she was among that group of people.

“It hit me in a second, suddenly, in a bang. You suddenly realize that everything that you were doing and thinking was good, was actually bad. I created a rift, and I created division, and I created tension, and this tension caused a weakness. And this weakness, in many aspects, led to the massacres [by Hamas on October 7],” she said.

Anti-judicial overhaul activists protest against the government in Tel Aviv on September 30, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“I am here, telling you and the democratic-secular public — I sinned before you,” she added. “I caused you pain, I caused you to fear for your lives here. I apologize for this.”

Days after Netanyahu’s government was sworn into office, it pushed ahead with a widely controversial slate of legislation aimed at sideling the judiciary and providing greater political control over the court system. The effort sparked an unprecedented mass protest movement in Israel with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets on a weekly basis.

Before the war began, the coalition succeeding in passing the “reasonableness” clause, which bars all courts from deliberating on or ruling against government and ministerial decisions on the basis of the judicial standard of “reasonableness,” thus curbing the High Court’s power to strike down such decisions. The remainder of the legislation has effectively been shelved since the start of the war.

Distel Atbaryan said that on the morning of October 7, her partner woke her up in the morning at the start of the war and told her “get up, the world is being destroyed.” The “first thing that popped into my head was — ‘you did this. You weakened the nation,'” she recalled.

Since the October 7 onslaught — in which thousands of Hamas terrorists stormed across the Gaza border and slaughtered approximately 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, taking another some 240 hostage — multiple Israeli officials, but not Netanyahu, have said they take responsibility in failing to prevent the attack and not heeding warnings.

Some in Israel on both sides of the aisle have sought to draw a connection between the divisions sown by the overhaul and the October 7 massacres, while others have dismissed any association between the two.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite her criticism of Netanyahu, Distel Atbaryan — who is still an MK — said that if a motion comes to the Knesset following the war to disperse the Knesset and head to new elections, she will vote against the measure.

“When I look at all of the possible candidates, with a full heart, 100%, with a clean conscience — he is the best by far,” she said in the interview. “He’s good. He’s not as good as I thought, but I am going with what is right, not what is good for me.”

Distel Atbaryan said that she feels “personally hurt by [Netanyahu] on a level I cannot even describe” after what she has said was her treatment while a minister. “I really loved this man, a true love… I was thrown to the dogs. I’ve kept my mouth shut [about my personal treatment] and I’ll probably keep my mouth shut forever… because I don’t want to disturb the base and disappoint those who chose me.”

She also said that she continues to believe in the necessity of the judicial overhaul, as well as her belief in the theory that Netanyahu was framed for his multiple charges of corruption in his ongoing trial, “but my perception has become much more complex. I won’t say today that Netanyahu is the father of the nation — not after this massacre.”

The mea culpa by Distel Atbaryan, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud, was one of the first times a member of the ruling party has accepted responsibility for the polarized atmosphere ahead of the Hamas attack on October 17 — in which 3,000 terrorists burst into Israel, slaughtered 1,200 people and abducted 240 — which triggered a devastating war that has continued for nearly three months.

Distel Atbaryan, who served as public diplomacy minister, was one of Netanyahu’s strongest supporters and drew attention for her harsh criticism of his opponents in a repeated series of verbal attacks and biting interviews.

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But days after the Oct. 7 massacres, she resigned her ministerial post when it was clear that other government ministries were handling her responsibilities.

Distel Atbaryan said at the time that her office was “emptied of the authority it was originally given,” and therefore she could “not find at this moment any justification for this doubling of powers.”

Atbaryan often made headlines for divisive remarks and comments, including a cabinet meeting over the summer where she reportedly got into a heated fight with Intelligence Minister Galit Gamliel, saying: “Bite me, you moron, no one in Likud likes you.”

In April she suggested that there was a deep state network of senior officials in the military, police and media that were working to bring down the government, and in March she drew a wave of backlash when she gave a fiery speech proclaiming that it was “your families that were burned” in the Holocaust, slamming what she viewed as Ashkenazi elites leading a wave of criticism against her and her activities.

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