After Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mixed up the name of a critically wounded soldier when he called to check up on his family, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity on Monday to attack the premier, but later backed away from the criticism.
“Disgraceful. Pray for the recovery of Barel Hadaria Shmueli,” Netanyahu posted on Facebook, with a link to a Israel Hayom newspaper article on the subject of his and Bennett’s phone calls to the family.
The parents of the 21-year-old Border Police officer, who remains hospitalized in serious condition after he was shot in the head during violence along the Gaza border on Saturday, have heavily criticized the government’s conduct.
On Monday afternoon, far-right political activist and rapper The Shadow published an audio clip of the conversation between Bennett and Yossi Shmueli, the father of the injured soldier. In the conversation, an emotional Yossi questions Bennett over the military’s decision to station soldiers close to the Gaza border and berates the prime minister as a “coward.”
Bennett can then be heard asking where “Yossi” is hospitalized, and Yossi, Barel’s father, corrects him: “It’s Barel, his name is Barel.”
After the audio was published, Bennett issued a public apology to the Shmueli family.
The soldier’s mother, Nitza, told 103 FM Radio that she was much more comforted by a call she received later that night from Netanyahu, the former prime minister, who is currently vacationing in the United States.
“Benjamin Netanyahu called at midnight, with questions and well wishes. He cried on the phone — he cried,” she recalled. “He knew every detail, asked about his surgeries. Mr. Bennett didn’t even know his name, asked which hospital he was in. What an embarrassment.”
Israel Hayom, often seen as a mouthpiece for Likud and its leader, mentioned both phone calls in the article Netanyahu shared.
Netanyahu later edited the post to remove the word “disgraceful,” apparently at the recommendation of his advisers, Channel 12 news reported. Likud MK David Bitan said Netanyahu had regretted his politicization of the incident.
“Netanyahu made political use of the soldier’s injury, and immediately removed the post when he realized it was inappropriate,” Bitan told 103 FM Radio on Tuesday, adding that “Bennett was not ready for the call and he went into shock from the father’s reaction.”
Initial findings from the military’s investigation into the violence along the Gaza border on Saturday indicated that the troops were unprepared for the sudden rush of rioters toward the security fence. The soldiers stationed on the border did not immediately open fire at the masses that suddenly attacked the fence, out of concern that they might hit civilians who were in the area, a military official said.
The IDF has yet to complete a full probe of Saturday’s events, and is looking into all aspects of the day, from how troops were deployed along the border to the exact lead-up to the shooting, and how the forces responded to it, said the military official, adding that the IDF saw the incident as a grave violation of Israeli sovereignty.
Though the IDF prepared for Saturday’s border protest — deploying additional troops to the security fence — it had incorrectly predicted that the demonstration would be far less violent, in light of Hamas’s public statements to that effect ahead of time, the probe found.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.