The spokesperson for the Zionist Union has been at the center of a media storm since Saturday night, when he called West Bank settlers murderers and accused them of “building swimming pools on the blood of murdered children.”
Ofer Newman offered an apology for the comments Sunday, but not before they drew torrents of criticism, including from one lawmaker who called for him to be thrown in prison.
Newman said later that he posted his condemnation of the settler movement on his Facebook page after having watched the documentary film “The Settlers,” which focuses on the far-right fringe elements within Jewish West Bank communities.
In his post, Newman, who also serves as personal spokesman for Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, wrote: “The settlers built swimming pools on the blood of children they murdered.
“What kind of a twisted moral basis enables these people to stride along on a path toward the deaths of thousands of Israelis without anyone saying to them: ‘You have gone too far! You are lowly murderers. You belong in prison!’
“They blatantly abused our chances of not dying here. They violently took our hopes. They trampled Jewish ethics under their coarse feet.”
He also wrote that settler leaders were “like children to whom somebody forgot to say ‘No!’
“They [the settlers] are not as frightening as they like us to think. They are people who have lost their sanity and are prepared to sacrifice us on the altar of their insanity. This has to be stopped!” he wrote.
The post drew harsh criticism on social media, and Newman deleted parts of the post, including the reference to the blood of murdered children. Among the critics was Herzog, who disavowed his spokesman’s “harsh” comments.
“The post by Ofer Newman, my spokesperson, was very critical, very blunt, and very wrong, because it creates a generalization that I am unwilling to accept and uses imagery that we mustn’t use under any circumstances,” Herzog said. “I meet with settlers nearly every day; the Labor Party encouraged and built part of the settlement enterprise, and even if we have criticism about the settler leadership, they are and always will be, our brothers and part of our extended family. We have a profound, difficult ideological debate with the settler leadership and it will continue, but even in the middle of the debate, we will uphold their honor and do so respectfully.”
On Sunday morning Newman posted an apology on Facebook.
“The things that I wrote are causing a storm, and I want to clarify,” wrote Newman. “Last night I saw the film ‘The Settlers.’ I came home upset and wrote things that it is forbidden to write [when you are] upset.”
“I have a lot of criticism of the settler leadership, but the language, the tone, and the descriptions were excessive and completely unnecessary,” he wrote. “They hurt them [the settlers] and they hurt also the dear man who I work alongside and I am sorry for that. We all make mistakes, that was my mistake.”
“There is a way to express criticism even when one is overcome with emotion, and the way that [I] expressed [it] was wrong. The settlers are part of my people, I don’t hate them and am not close to that.”
The West Bank settler communities, which are a key issue in the relations with the Palestinians and any future peace agreement, are a topic of fierce debate among Israelis.
In walking back his outburst, Newman noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also apologized for comments he had made in the past, and pointed to Channel 10 anchorwoman Oshrat Kotler, who on Saturday night apologized over a comment she made on air suggesting that most settlers were insane, drawing public uproar.
At the end of a segment about Ezri Tubi, a resident of the Yitzhar settlement who is engaged in public diplomacy on behalf of Israel, Kotler said: “There is no doubt he is a sane settler; they do exist, even in Yitzhar.”
Kolter later posted to her Facebook page a statement saying her “intention was, of course, to praise Tubi’s, and many others’, moderation, and I regret that my spontaneous wording was not successful and did not reflect what I meant.”
She later added in another post, “I certainly do not think that the settler public is insane, period.”