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Top adviser for hostage families group steps down, citing pressure from politicians

A media adviser who led the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said Sunday that he was stepping down, claiming politicians told families they would otherwise not support the group.

Ronen Tzur did not say why politicians wanted him out, or why they only made a move now, some four months after he became the campaign’s top spokesperson. However, before the war with the Palestinian terror group Hamas began in October, Tzur was active in anti-government protests. Almost 20 years ago, he briefly served as a Labor MK.

According to Hebrew media reports, dozens of hostage family members signed a letter calling for Tzur to be replaced because he is “tainted with political colors” that would damage the broad consensus of support the forum wants from the public.

Others played down the significance of the letter, saying that Tzur would remain with the forum as an adviser and that it was just a matter of having family representatives as the top leadership of the group.

After holding a video conference meeting with forum members earlier Sunday, Tzur wrote on his X account that the families “expressed grave concern about the reactions of political parties in the coalition to my involvement in the management” of the forum.

Tzur added that “evidence was provided” that some of the families “received threats during their visits to the Knesset and during meetings with coalition members” who are involved in assisting the families over “changing the composition of the [forum] leaders.”

“At this tough and pain-ridden time for the families, I have no intention of allowing any political action to threaten, directly or implicitly, the families of the hostages and to turn them into hostages of immoral and unethical politicians,” Tzur wrote.

He added that the families decided to appoint a team from among the relatives to lead the effort instead of him.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the issue of Tzur’s leadership had been on the agenda for weeks and 45 families signed a petition seeking his ouster.

Tzur, who served for three monhs as a Labor MK in 2006, has a long history as a communications specialist, including for Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party in 2018. That same year, he was also contracted to help accused sex offender Malka Leifer avoid extradition to Australia, where she was later convicted.

Haaretz reported that coalition criticism of Tzur was rooted, among other reasons, in his being tied to the anti-government protests that raged in the first nine months of 2023.

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a devastating attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The thousands of attackers who invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip also abducted 253 people.

Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and free the hostages, half of whom remain in captivity.

One of those who participated in the video conference with Tzur was Udi Goren, cousin of Tal Chaimi from Nir Yitzhak, who was killed during the Hamas attack and whose body is being held by terrorists in Gaza. Goren told Haaretz that the meeting between Tzur and the families was respectful and that “everyone at the forum very much appreciates Ronen’s efforts.”

Goren said that the topic of the “difficulty that has risen” with Tzur was brought up during the meeting and that “it is being used by political parties and voices in the media to attack us.” He did not elaborate further.

Goren said that the families asked Tzur to remain as an adviser “out of a great appreciation for what he has done so far,” and dismissed the idea that there was a petition to force him out.

The letter demanding that Tzur step down, as cited by Hebrew media reports, stressed, “We are at the most important time since the beginning of the war and the process of releasing the abductees,” a reference to efforts by international mediators to reach a deal that would see hostages released in return for a truce, the nature and length of which is a key sticking point in talks.

“The watershed moment in the passing of one or another deal lies in public consensus,” the letter stated. “One of the most important issues in creating a public consensus is to operate under a chief of staff who is not painted in one political color or another, through his fault or not, especially at this point in time.”

“At this critical point in time, we cannot afford to be led by a figure who is seen as a red flag by a large part of the Israeli public — again, through his fault or not,” it said.

Ayala Metzger, daughter-in-law of hostage Yoram Metzger, was also on the video call and said there was no petition to oust Tzur; rather, the forum saw a need for change, and the difficulties relating to Tzur’s political background were raised.

“This is a public campaign,” she said. “There are many points of view and directions. Those who lay down what to do and those who lead are the families. The ones who dictate what to do and the ones who lead are the families.”

In a statement, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said it “thanks Ronen Tzur for his significant part in founding the headquarters and his tireless volunteering for the families.”

“The sole responsibility for the return of all the abductees rests with the members of the war cabinet and the head of it. They must not miss any opportunity to bring everyone home now,” the forum said.

Source: TOI