Lior Lotan, who serves as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coordinator on the subject of hostages and missing persons, issued an apology on Thursday night, after Channel 10 News released a recording of him making threats to the relatives of Avraham (Avera) Mengistu, who was kidnapped by Hamas after crossing the border into Gaza ten months ago.
The recording of a meeting Wednesday between Lotan and members of Mengistu’s family was published hours after it was cleared for publication that Mengistu was being held captive by Hamas.
During the conversation, the envoy was heard telling the family that if any attempt was made to connect his fate with recent tensions between the Ethiopian community and the government, it would “cause him to stay in Gaza for another year.”
“You have two options: You can point the finger at Hamas and say, ‘You are holding Avera, you are responsible for his fate, give him back to us and we want to know he is alive,’” Lotan was heard telling the family members, “or you can point the finger at Jerusalem and say, ‘You’re not okay. You let him cross the border [into Gaza]. You never responded to our letters.'”
The Channel 10 report also revealed that during the meeting, when one of the family members attempted to take notes, Lotan said, “I don’t like this. My meetings are not documented.” When Mengistu’s brother, Yalo, tried to intervene in the matter, Lotan told him, “Don’t interrupt me, please. I am older than you. Let me finish and everything will be fine here.”
Lotan’s comments as revealed by the Channel 10 report caused outrage in Israel, with politicians from the opposition calling on Lotan – and even on Netanyahu – to resign.
Lotan later issued an apology, saying, "Tonight I spoke with the family of Avera Mengistu and apologized for the content and the style of some of the things said during a long conversation. The good relationship that we formed over the past several months will continue as we work together to bring Avera home. I will continue to work voluntarily for the return of our missing and captive soldiers and citizens.”
Netanyahu himself also responded to the incident, saying, "These are things that should not have been said, and it is good that Lior spoke this evening with the family and apologized."
"Lior is working day and night, voluntarily , to return our missing soldiers and citizens," the Prime Minister stressed.