Far-right minister: Hostage deal throws war goals in trash to save only 22-33 hostages

In response, Lapid says Orit Strock’s ‘extremist’ government has ‘no right to exist’; Movement for Quality Government calls on Netanyahu to fire her

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"

Settlements and National Projects Minister Orit Strock speaks during a prayer event for the IDF's success and the return of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas, Gush Etzion, March 21, 2024. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Settlements and National Projects Minister Orit Strock speaks during a prayer event for the IDF's success and the return of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas, Gush Etzion, March 21, 2024. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Settlements and National Projects Minister Orit Strock sparked fierce criticism on Wednesday when she rejected the “terrible” hostage deal currently being negotiated in Egypt and said that its approval would be tantamount to a betrayal of IDF soldiers and Israel’s war aims.

There are “soldiers who left everything behind and went out to fight for goals that the government defined, and we throw it in the trash to save 22 people or 33 or I don’t know how many,” the far-right minister told Army Radio. “Such a government has no right to exist.”

In comments in the same interview that were not widely highlighted, she also said: “This deal turns its back on all three of these [war] aims, including the aim of creating conditions for the return of the hostages. Because what does it essentially say? It says, return a small number of hostages now. But in return for the others, you’ll have nothing left to pay, except really the complete end of the war.”

“Is Hersh Goldberg a ‘humanitarian’ hostage or not? Is Omri Miran a ‘humanitarian’ hostage or not?” Strock went on. “Those people will be left behind [in Gaza] and we won’t have anything to offer [for their release] except a complete end to the war.”

Condemning Strock, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tweeted that “a government with 22 or 33 extremist coalition members has no right to exist.”

Minister Chili Tropper of National Unity, who sits with Strock in the cabinet, accused her of insensitivity toward the hostages. Whether one supports the deal or not, “the fundamental Jewish precept that ‘whoever saves a single life, it is as if he saved an entire world’ should spare us obtuse and blunt statements regarding the terrible suffering of the hostages and their families, like the words of Minister Orit Strock,” he said.

“The Jewish path is more humane and sensitive to human life than those who sometimes seek to speak on its behalf.”

In a statement, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Strock, declaring that “Israel now needs unity and not division, responsibility and not political populism.”

Protesters block Begin Road in front of the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv as they call for the release of the hostages, April 30, 2024. (Dafi Cohen/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

“There is no place for someone who adheres to an extremist ideology at the expense of human life, and we call on the prime minister to fire Minister Strock immediately,” the watchdog group demanded.

Shir Siegel, whose father Keith Siegel is being held hostage in Gaza, described Strock’s words as expressing “disdain for human life at the highest levels,” in a statement cited by the Haaretz daily.

This is not the first time that Strock has criticized the handling of the war against Hamas, having questioned the conduct of Israeli Air Force pilots regarding air support for ground troops in Gaza in December.

Strock’s latest comments echoed those of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of her Religious Zionism party, who on Tuesday appeared to threaten to bolt the coalition if it approves an agreement being negotiated in Egypt.

In remarks following a meeting of his party in the Knesset, Smotrich told reporters that while he would have received kudos for coming out in favor of a deal, he believes that such a course of action would endanger Israeli civilians and that he is “ready to pay the political price” to prevent an “existential threat” to the State of Israel — even if it means going to the opposition.

Smotrich explained that though his “heart is torn” by the suffering of the hostages and their families, his “head is thinking at the same time about the future of nine million Israeli citizens” and how they will be affected by a potential return of Hamas to northern Gaza and the release of terrorists with blood on their hands in exchange for the hostages.

“We have reached a crossroads where the State of Israel has to choose between decisive victory and defeat in war and humiliation,” he declared, claiming that “acceptance of the deal that is on the table means unequivocally waving a white flag and granting victory to Hamas.”

“A government that submits to international pressure, stops the war in the middle, avoids immediate entry into Rafah and returns to Egyptian mediation proposals that leave Hamas existing in any configuration, will at that moment lose its right to exist,” Smotrich said.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich addresses the media following a meeting of his Religious Zionism faction in the Knesset, April 30, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

His announcement on Tuesday came shortly after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said, following a private meeting with the prime minister, that Netanyahu had promised not to agree to a “reckless” hostage deal.

Responding to Ben Gvir and Smotrich, National Unity Minister Gadi Eisenkot, an observer in the war cabinet, slammed what he described as political blackmail.

Calling their actions “a serious phenomenon that harms Israel’s national security,” Eisenkot asserted that he “will only be a partner in a government that makes decisions based on the national interests of the State of Israel, and not on political considerations.”

Smotrich hit back at Eisenkot, calling for him to show “a little humility,” and adding that it was his “duty to act against a bad deal that will endanger the security of the citizens of Israel.”

While Eisenkot condemned Smotrich and Ben Gvir’s threats, National Unity leader Benny Gantz earlier this week used similar language, saying that if the government rejects a hostage deal backed by the security services, it will “have no right to continue to exist.”

* This article was updated with further quotes from Minister Strock’s interview.

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