‘We failed,’ Smotrich and other Israeli lawmakers concede as rage simmers over government’s handling of attack


(JTA) — A handful of Israeli government officials — but not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have acknowledged and taken responsibility for the failures that contributed to the Hamas attack Oct. 7 that left more than 1,300 Israelis dead, thousands wounded and nearly 200 people captive in Gaza.

The official line, widely repeated by people of all political orientations, is that the time for inquiries and assigning of blame will come after Israel concludes its war against Hamas. But a simmering rage over how Israel’s vaunted security apparatus could have been surprised by the attack, and over how the government has responded since, has repeatedly broken through.

Families of victims have castigated government officials who have come to hospitals. Supporters and family members of hostages protested outside an army base in Tel Aviv last week.

And on Monday, the mayor of Ashkelon, a southern Israeli city that has been pummeled by rocket fire from Gaza, castigated Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset meeting about allocating aid in the wake of the attack. “After everything is over we will settle accounts with whoever is necessary,” Mayor Tomer Glam said.

Smotrich was one of at least three members of Knesset so far to acknowledge responsibility related to the attack. A minister who leads a faction of the government on the far right, he has been appointed to oversee a special council to distribute funds during the war.

Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich attends a press conference about the government’s war financing in Jerusalem, Oct. 15, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

“I take responsibility for what was and what will be. We have to admit with pain and with a bowed head — we failed,” Smotrich said on Sunday. “The country’s leadership and the security system have failed in maintaining the security of our residents.”

Also on Sunday, Miki Zohar, the minister of culture and sports, said plainly on Israel’s Army Radio that the country had been unprepared.

“The preparations were not in place for an attack like this…. The government, the state, was not ready for an attack like this,” Zohar said, according to Times of Israel.

He added, “In the name of the government of Israel, and in the name of the whole State of Israel, we ask your forgiveness for what happened. Because the responsibility is on the government of Israel and the whole State of Israel.”

The apologies follow what was reportedly the first, by Education Minister Yoav Kisch, on Thursday, five days after the attack. Kisch suggested in his comments that the government was distracted by other priorities. Until the Hamas attack, the main issue occupying Israelis was the government’s effort to weaken the judiciary.

“No one will escape responsibility. We are responsible — I am responsible as a member of the government,” Kisch told Ynet on Thursday. “We were busy with nonsense. We forgot where we live.”

Polling shows that the vast majority of Israelis, including those who previously supported the government, believe Netanyahu and his fellow ministers deserve the blame for the attack.

On Saturday, Netanyahu visited some of the communities near Gaza that bore the brunt of the attack, in some cases seeing 10% of their populations murdered. It was his first visit to the area since the onslaught.

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