Herzog blasts media for not calling Hamas ‘terrorists’ and downplaying terror threat

Briefing foreign reporters, president says those who complained of a ‘disproportionate response’ in Gaza should now understand ‘what a false interpretation of the reality that was’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

President Isaac Herzog speaks to foreign journalists at his residence in Jerusalem on October 12, 2023. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)
President Isaac Herzog speaks to foreign journalists at his residence in Jerusalem on October 12, 2023. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)

In a briefing to foreign reporters on Thursday, President Isaac Herzog lamented the international media’s inability over the years to see Hamas as a murderous terrorist group bent on killing Israelis, instead continually criticizing Israel’s responses.

“Sderot has been attacked time and again for years and years, and suffered thousands and thousands of missiles,” Herzog told a gathering of international journalists at his residence. “And the world kept on repeating the slogan ‘disproportionate Israeli response,'” the president said, referring to criticism of Israeli strikes on Gaza following Hamas rocket attacks.

“Every time this havoc was inflicted on these villages and towns, we were told ‘disproportionate response,'” he added. “I’m asking myself whether the international community and the international media is now understanding what a false interpretation of the reality that was. Do they now believe us that we are faced with one of the most cruel enemies on earth?”

The president also called on media outlets to clearly label Hamas as a terrorist organization. The BBC in particular has faced sharp criticism for not doing so, including from the UK defense secretary.

“The press around the world needs to look at reality,” Herzog said. “They must declare and call Hamas a terrorist organization without ifs and buts, without explanation… these are not freedom fighters. These are terrorists, the worst enemies of humanity that one can imagine.”

Herzog said Israel is preparing for an extensive military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip: “It will be a long and drawn-out campaign against Hamas, which is basically a long and drawn-out campaign on ISIS.”

A terrorist’s body after the devastating assault by Hamas in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 11, 2023 (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Asked by The Times of Israel whether he thought the wave of international support Israel has received in recent days would wane as the conflict stretched on and the death toll in Gaza rises, Herzog said, “This is exactly the moment of truth.”

“Nations must stand up to the truth,” he added, praising German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for expressing “moral clarity as to the situation” in comments earlier Thursday in which he said Berlin has a “perpetual task for us to stand up for the security of the State of Israel.”

Herzog added: “We expect nations in the world to express clear moral clarity regarding the situation and this terrible massacre.”

The generally mild-mannered president engaged in several heated exchanges with foreign journalists, reacting angrily to questions from CNN and the UK’s Channel 4 about the IDF’s ongoing bombing of the Gaza Strip.

Asked by CNN anchor Becky Anderson about Israel’s “collective punishment” of Gazan civilians, calling it a “war crime,” Herzog raised his voice in response.

“I’m quite disappointed that what’s you’re asking me instantaneously, haven’t you seen [the carnage in southern Israel]? You’ve all seen it. So now we’re starting with the rhetoric about war crimes. Really? Truly?” Herzog reiterated that “Israel abides by international law, operates by international law.”

Smoke plumes billow during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 12, 2023. (IBRAHIM HAMS / AFP)

Channel 4’s Matt Frei said he was “confused” by Herzog’s responses, considering that “you seem to hold the people of Gaza responsible for Hamas.”

The president cuts off Frei’s question angrily: “With all due respect, if you have a missile in your goddamn kitchen and you want to shoot it at me, am I allowed to defend myself? That’s the situation.”

Herzog also dismisses a question about a potential prisoner exchange to release the Israeli hostages held in Gaza: “Why should there be a deal? They should be released immediately… isn’t it that the most decent, moral thing to do is immediately release all the prisoners they abducted?”

The death toll in Israel from Hamas’s horrific onslaught passed 1,300 on Thursday, with more than 3,300 injured, and an estimated 200 captured and taken to the Gaza Strip.

The IDF has been conducted intensive airstrikes in Gaza over the past six days, targeting thousands of Hamas assets and members, in a bid to obliterate the terror group. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, some 1,203 have been killed in Israeli strikes in Gaza since Saturday.

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