Tells journalists: I fight Hamas, you fight me

PM: World Court’s handling of false genocide claims shows Holocaust lessons not learned

Netanyahu says South Africa serving ‘the new Nazis’ of Hamas, argues protests for hostages harms efforts for their release, spars with reporters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up an Arabic copy of Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' found in Gaza during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2024 (Tomer Appelbaum/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up an Arabic copy of Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' found in Gaza during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2024 (Tomer Appelbaum/POOL)

At a televised press conference Saturday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the International Court of Justice’s readiness to hear “ridiculous” allegations of genocide against Israel “proves that many in the world have not learned a thing from the Holocaust,” while arguing the court case was serving the interests of Hamas, “the new Nazis.”

Netanyahu also said Israel will never forget the October 7 massacres, atrocities and abductions, and “we will never forgive what the Hamas monsters did to our sons and daughters.”

But while the premier said he empathizes with the emotions of hostages’ families as they express increasing outrage over the government’s failure to free their loved ones, he argued protests and mass rallies on behalf of the abductees, “as far as I can see, only raise” Hamas’s demands and “push off the goal that we all want: the return of all of our hostages.”

Lessons of the Holocaust

Netanyahu said it was outrageous that South Africa went to The Hague and falsely accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, and that it was Hamas that seeks genocide against Israel and the Jewish people. South Africa, he said, went to The Hague “on behalf of Hamas.”

He held up a volume of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in Arabic, which he said was found in a home in Hamas-run Gaza, and said this was how “the new Nazis” educate their children.

The war was imposed on Israel by a despicable enemy that openly declares that it wants to destroy all Jews, he said. On October 7, “if they could have, they would have slaughtered us all.”

He denounced the ICJ for failing to summarily reject the genocide allegations against Israel. “The readiness of the court” to even hear the “ridiculous” case, he said, “proves that many in the world have not learned a thing from the Holocaust.”

“But we have learned,” he said, and “the main lesson of the Holocaust is that only we will defend ourselves by ourselves. Nobody will do it for us.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024 (Tomer Appelbaum/POOL)

Israel needs to be strong and determined, and fight back, he said.

“The Jewish state rose from the ashes of the Holocaust to ensure defensive power for the Jewish people,” he stated, stressing Israel’s basic right to defend itself. “Nobody will take [that right] from us,” he added.

There is “no alternative to complete victory,” he said, eulogizing the many soldiers who fell in Gaza this week and saying Israel must achieve all the goals of the war in their memory — destroying Hamas, bringing all the hostages home, and ensuring that Gaza does not again constitute a threat to Israel.

If Israel does not destroy Hamas, “the next slaughter is only a matter of time.”

Protests harm hostages?

Netanyahu said the growing protests against his government by the families of hostages still held in Gaza was causing Hamas to raise its demands, as it assumed the public pressure would force concessions by the government.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have pushed back against families’ demand for a ceasefire and immediate deal for their loved ones’ release, saying such a deal is not on offer from the terror group. They have repeatedly argued that only continued military pressure will bring about the hostages’ release.

His comments were similar to those made earlier by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who told Channel 12 news that the more people protest against the government and in support of a deal to release the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, the less likely it is that they’ll be released.

Israelis protest march calling for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Jerusalem, January 24, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“There is nothing that hurts our chance of bringing the hostages home more than the protests,” Smotrich said.

Netanyahu said “nobody has to incentivize me” to work on getting the hostages back. He recalled that he was injured as a soldier in the successful resolution of the Sabena hijacking incident in 1972, and that his brother Yoni died in the Entebbe rescue. “I’m working [on getting the hostages back] all the time.”

The premier was asked about the repeated gatherings of protesters blocking aid going into Gaza through Kerem Shalom. “Without minimal aid to Gaza,” he said, “we cannot complete the task and finish the war.”

He said he understands why families of hostages, some of whom are among those blocking the aid, oppose it, but added that Israel’s policy was to allow the aid to enter. He said instructions had been given to put a stop to protesters’ blocking of the aid trucks.

Protesters block the Kerem Shalom border crossing, January 26, 2024 to protest aid going into Gaza while hostages are being held (courtesy)

Regarding families of hostages protesting outside his home, Netanyahu was asked whether police moving the rally further away from the house this week was on his orders.

Netanyahu said they had the right to protest. “I haven’t given any instructions to the security authorities,” he stated, while adding that he regularly meets with the families.

He added that leaks from such meetings were unfortunate and “don’t help.”

Responding to Netanyahu’s comments, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said relatives had “led efforts for the transfer of medicine to the hostages, brought the president of the International Criminal Court to Israel and mobilized the media and the world’s most powerful influencers in support of Israel and the hostages.

“We expect the prime minister to remember that he is an elected official whose job it is to correct the errors [of October 7], not scold those whose family members were kidnapped.”

A ‘different’ kind of governance

Asked about Gaza after the war, Netanyahu repeated that “we will destroy the Hamas leadership,” and its military and civilian capacities will be demolished. After that, “a different” kind of governance, a non-terrorist administration, will need to be constructed in Gaza.

He said this cannot be an administration that educates children to hatred, an apparent reference to the Palestinian Authority, whose textbooks have been widely noted to feature many instances of incitement against the Jewish state and denial of its right to exist.

Smotrich went further Saturday, saying it would be Israel that administers Gaza after the war.

Bezalel Smotrich speaking at the Israel Defense and Security Forum in Ashkelon on January 25, 2024. (Daniel Starbo/Courtesy)

“There will be an Israeli military administration in Gaza,” he said. “Because we all agree that we need to stay in Gaza and rule there militarily. And we won’t have military control if we don’t have civil control there. Nobody else will do it.”

Netanyahu was asked about a conference to be held in Jerusalem Sunday on reviving Jewish settlement in Gaza, which will be attended by some ministers and MKs from his coalition — attendance that will no doubt spark concern by Israel’s international allies, who utterly reject renewed settlement.

He said MKs and ministers are allowed to speak their minds but that Israel’s policy on “day after” Gaza is set by the full cabinet, which is the body authorized to make such decisions, and added that no decision [to resettle Gaza] had been made. His opposition to revived Jewish settlement in Gaza “has not changed,” he said.

Sparring with journalists

The prime minister was particularly combative in several exchanges with news reporters as he took questions, accusing journalists on several occasions of “fighting me” as “I fight Hamas in Gaza.”

Remarkably, one reporter to whom he made such a comment noted ahead of his question that he had just returned from 100 days of reserve duty in a combat unit. The Calcalist reporter asked how people sending their loved ones to the IDF should feel about the government funding organizations that help some Israelis avoid army service — in reference to certain Haredi organizations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024 (Tomer Appelbaum/POOL)

Spurning the question as “biased, unfair, inaccurate,” Netanyahu accused the reporter of trying to spread division in Israel. He said Israel has been unified amid the war, “a great achievement,” and the reporter was trying to undo that unity.

“Again, I’ll deal with destroying Hamas, and you run the war against me,” he told him.

As to the question itself, the prime minister said “I’ve seen Haredim in their masses volunteering” for the harrowing work of collecting bodies in organizations such as Zaka and “helping in any way they can.” Some are joining the army, he noted.

Regarding Likud MK Tally Gotliv’s peddling of conspiracy theories that accuse opposition figures of conspiring with Hamas ahead of the attacks, he said his office has condemned her comments.

When Channel 13’s Matan Hodorov suggested that a clearer, more forceful condemnation of baseless claims may be appropriate, Netanyahu castigated him, saying Hodorov had come to the press conference not to ask questions but to attack him.

Asked by Hodorov whether he has harmed relations with Egypt and Qatar, Israel’s main mediators with Hamas on the hostages, and thus hurt the prospects for the release of captives, Netanyahu sniped sarcastically at “the objective framing of the question.” He insisted that Israel-Egypt ties were “intact,” that there was ongoing contact between the two governments, but that Egypt “needs to say certain things… I won’t elaborate.”

“We each have interests,” he said.

He did not retract his criticisms of Qatar and said he uses every avenue to put pressure on Hamas to try to return the hostages.

“Qatar hosts the heads of Hamas, it also funds Hamas and it has leverage over Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “It promised to ensure that the medicines would reach… our hostages. And it said it could help to return [the hostages]. So it should place its pressure on [Hamas]. It placed itself as a mediator. Please, prove it and return our hostages. And in the meantime, transfer the medicines to them.”

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