'There are those who chose to manipulatively distort my words'

Gallant says comments on war phases not meant for ‘some woman’ from south, drawing ire

Defense minister tells Likud lawmakers terminology used in Wall Street Journal interview on downshifting offensive not meant for lay females from ‘Sderot or Ofakim’

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with soldiers near the Gaza border, October 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with soldiers near the Gaza border, October 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant sparked an outcry Monday when he reportedly told lawmakers that updates on military operations in Gaza were not meant for “some woman” from southern Israel, after he said the army had shifted to lower-intensity fighting.

Gallant, who later claimed his words had been misconstrued, made the comment while meeting with Likud party colleagues, hours after the Wall Street Journal published an interview in which he revealed that the Israel Defense Forces was moving to a new, less intense phase of the fighting in Gaza.

According to Channel 12 news, lawmakers at the party meeting expressed dismay at learning about the war’s progress through foreign media.

Gallant answered that the talk of phases in the fighting was army terminology meant for military and diplomatic communications and not laypeople.

It’s “not for some woman from Sderot or Ofakim to think something particular was going to happen,” he said, according to reports in Channel 12 and other Hebrew-language media.

Gallant’s comment did not raise any eyebrows in the meeting, but drew an outcry online and in the Knesset once it was leaked to the media. Initial reports used a slightly different iteration, quoting Gallant as saying that no woman from Sderot or Ofakim would tell the army when to change course.

MK Merav Michaeli, the outgoing leader of the Labor party, accused Gallant of misogyny, commenting that the view dovetailed with the dismal picture drawn by a recent report showing high levels of gender inequality in Israel.

“This government implements this contempt in all walks of life,” wrote Michaeli.

In a speech at the Knesset plenary, MK Almog Cohen, from the extremist right-wing Otzma Yehudit party, chided the defense minister for what he said was disrespect toward women from underprivileged towns.

“On October 7, the women of Sderot and Ofakim were alone. Nobody came to help. I don’t think anyone in this country can dare talk ill of our brave women,” said the lawmaker.

The two southern towns, both of which rank relatively low on governmental socio-economic scales, were hit hard during Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught. Residents of Sderot have been displaced since the shock assault, and account for about half of some 60,000 evacuees from southern Israel.

Gallant later addressed the criticism on X, saying that “the residents of Ofakim and Sderot were and continue to be a chief concern of mine.”

“Unfortunately, there are those who chose to manipulatively distort my words,” he wrote.

“The talk of transition between stages is meant to create a shared language for the military and political ranks, not for the sake of public discourse,” he added.

Gallant told the Wall Street Journal that Israel’s military was moving away from the “intense maneuvering phase of the war” and toward “different types of special operations.”

Speaking to the New York Times, IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari confirmed the shift away from the punishing, high-intensity strikes that characterized the first three months of Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

Police evacuate a woman in Sderot from a building hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists on October 17, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Jerusalem has faced increasing pressure from international allies, including the US, to downshift its offensive and allow more humanitarian aid to reach the Strip’s civilians. Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, including from the Likud, have expressed opposition to slacking the intensity of the war.

The comments to the foreign press came just before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on a regional trip aimed at lowering the flames of the Israel-Hamas war and seeking to avoid an escalation between Hezbollah and Israel across the northern border.

According to Channel 12, the Likud party meeting Monday marked the first time Gallant had attended such a session since the Knesset enacted the so-called reasonableness law, a cornerstone of the coalition’s controversial judicial overhaul.

The defense minister was briefly dismissed by Netanyahu in March for warning that the overhaul was jeopardizing Israel’s security, but was reinstated following mass protests.

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