“Two hundred and forty-one empty places set for Sabbath dinner in Times Square; 30 empty baby strollers standing idle in a square in London; blindfolded teddy bears with photos of kidnapped children in Berlin; and the shoes of 241 hostages outside the United Nations headquarters in New York,” writes Debbie Mohnblatt in an article published on Medialine. These remarkable demonstrations of support for Israel’s hostages are the brainchild of volunteers of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, set up in two stories of an office building in Tel Aviv, space donated by Dudi Zalmanovich, a prominent Israeli businessman whose daughter survived the massacre at the Nova festival and whose nephew was taken captive by Hamas.
Hundreds of volunteers have joined in since – social workers, legal experts, medical personnel – all to help the families. And there is also a very active PR department, and media strategy department manned by experts.
So, this is all great, right?
As I look at the slick slogans and street demonstrations organized by the Forum’s volunteers to “free the hostages now,” I can’t help wondering what on earth these people are trying to accomplish? Do they think Israelis need to be convinced of that? That as we send our children to the battlefield in Gaza and the border with Lebanon to risk their lives, we’re drinking beer and watching Netflix thinking: “Nah, keep our kidnapped men, women and children imprisoned, raped, and starved for as long as you want?”
Certainly nothing the Forum is doing is directed at convincing Hamas to free the hostages. Quite the opposite. The more they exhibit and sow desperation and internal discord among Israelis with these demonstrations, the more they are encouraging our enemies to keep going, to avoid any deal, any surrender, to hold on to their delusions and their very last weapons – our hostages – until they achieve the kind of victory they will never get on the battlefield. Why should they make any deal if the Forum’s efforts convince them that with enough pressure our government will certainly knuckle under, pull out our forces from Gaza allowing Hamas to rebuild and rearm, so they can give another Jihadi-Holocaust attempt the old college try?
So the longer this goes on, one has to ask the question, aside from helping the families with their many issues, what is the real agenda of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum? And who is running the show?
Take Daniel Shek, a distinguished diplomat with a long career that included working with Shimon Peres in peace negotiations. Shek is the co-founder of Mitvim – described on their website as “The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies … established in 2011 whose mission is to improve Israel’s foreign policy, promote Israel’s regional belonging in the Middle East, Europe, and the Mediterranean, and advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. Mitvim developed and promotes a pro-peace, multi-regional, internationalist, modern, and inclusive approach to Israel’s foreign policy.”
And then there is Yuval Peretz, head of media, who is a member of J Street, founded by Jeremy Ben Ami, one of the designers of the Oslo Accords, whose mission statement is “We believe that only a negotiated resolution agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians can meet the legitimate needs and national aspirations of both peoples.”
Shek says openly: “I’m a two-state solution person myself. “ Not, God forbid, that he wants Hamas to win. “I very clearly and strongly believe that if you want a better future for the Palestinians, then Hamas is certainly not your ally. Hamas is not interested in the future of the Palestinians. Hamas is interested in the future of radical Islam, that’s its agenda,” Shek says.
But the end result of all this pressure to agree to Hamas demands is absolutely helping to keep Hamas in power. I am deeply concerned that many of the volunteers at the Forum holding important positions seem to share exactly the same world view, the one that got us into this mess in the first place. Or maybe it’s not so strange. “Basically, we used … an especially rich contact list that we each have, and we put it to the service of this forum,” acknowledges Shek.
One of the things the organizers point to with pride, is that “as Israeli public opinion polls show, the current No. 1 priority is freeing the hostages, which is something that I and the forum won’t take credit for, entirely or exclusively, but I do think that we have contributed very much to that,” Shek said.
I have no doubt that’s absolutely true and they can take all the credit. Excuse me? What? In a country of nine million facing extermination by Hamas-Isis in the south and over the green-line, and Hezbollah in the North, and the jihadis in the West Bank, and Iran, and the Houtis, our 100 hostages are now our top priority? Yes, they are vitally important. But what about the other 9 million people in Israel? What about their security? What about our soldiers and the momentum of the war and all those families who have lost their sons and daughters to fight this fight? Giving in to terrorist demands to free the hostages at any cost is a price all of us will have to pay, and pay, and keep paying in blood.
What, damn it, about winning this horrible war? About encouraging our people to stand fast and firm and not give up? What about that? Isn’t that in the best interests of everyone, including the hostages and their families?
I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if many of those involved in the Forum were also previously activists in the catastrophic and divisive judicial reform protests who, not coincidentally, hate Benjamin Netanyahu. Could it be, just maybe, that they are now grouping around the very sacrosanct issue of the hostages and their families to hide their own agenda, preparing a cause that will put a premature end to the war so they can start openly campaigning for their real objective, early elections and regime change?
An article in Politico Europe states, “… top activists are already drafting plans for mass protests the day after the war is over – or possibly sooner. And their target won’t be the judicial reforms but Netanyahu himself. ‘It is clear to everyone that the moment the war is over, the atmosphere of unity and shared destiny, Netanyahu’s “together we will win,” his “out of the disaster arose a new nation” and so forth, will become a thing of the past. It will unravel in an instant,’” writes Haaretz columnist Yossi Verter.
Netanyahu has emphasized that, for now, he is sticking to his red lines for any hostage deal which includes no permanent cease fire, no withdrawal from Gaza, and no freeing untold number of Hamas prisoners. Itamar Ben Gvir – considered an extremist on the right – has warned that any “reckless” hostage deal will force him to bring down the coalition government. I don’t like Ben Gvir for many reasons. But I’m with him on this.
Yair Lapid, a bitter political rival of Netanyahu and head of the Yesh Atid party, has offered to be “a safety net” for the government in the event of such a deal (meaning he’d back a reckless deal?).
I guess I don’t have to wonder what the Forum would back. Perhaps in the case of the families, we shouldn’t judge. As for the “volunteers,” their world view and current role at the Forum makes me wonder if they can also back the deeper needs and interests of the people of Israel as well.