IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot (R), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: GPO)
The Israeli political battle lines were clearly delineated once again late Sunday, with right wing-nationalist lawmakers denouncing Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon for his support of an army high command that has become more vocal in offering its opinions on the current state of society.
The fallout from the minister's remarks reverberated into late Sunday, when Ya'alon was summoned for "an urgent meeting" with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
During the sit-down, which is scheduled to take place Monday morning at the prime minister's office, the premier is expected to reprimand Ya'alon for his remarks on Sunday encouraging the senior officer corps to continue "speaking their mind" about contemporary Israeli society.
"Somebody needs to remind Bogie (Ya'alon's nickname) that we live in a democracy, not a military regime," Likud MK Oren Hazan said. "The IDF is not a junta. Its job is to implement the decisions of the civilian leadership and not to disagree with it and chart its own policy."
Some on the right believe that this may be the beginning of the end of Ya'alon's tenure as defense minister, a job that has reportedly been offered to Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman. Thus far, Netanyahu has failed to entice his onetime foreign minister to join the coalition.
"After the defense minister's speech, which is added to his speech from Remembrance Day, I would be very surprised if the prime minister keeps Ya'alon in his current position," Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich commented on his Twitter feed.
Earlier Sunday, Ya’alon said IDF commanders should continue to speak their minds on issues of morality and ethics, in an apparent reference to the controversy that followed the Holocaust Remembrance Day comments of Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan
“This evening, I call on you and your subordinates, once again, to keep speaking your minds. Do so even if your comments are not part of the mainstream, and even if they stand in contrast with the ideas adopted by senior command or the government,” Ya’alon said at an event attended by foreign military attaches at the Defense Ministry.
Earlier this month, Golan stirred an uproar after saying he was concerned by some of the extremist voices within Israeli society, likening it to the atmosphere in 1930s Germany, before Hitler came to power.
The IDF later issued a clarification saying Golan did not mean to compare extremism in society in Israel to 1930s Germany.
“Do not fear, do not hesitate. Continue to be brave, not only on the battlefield, but also at the conference table,” Ya’alon said on Sunday.
“A good military is one in which commanders, junior and senior, feel secure in their ability to speak their mind at any time, knowing they will not be harmed,” he added.
Netanyahu gives his full support to the IDF, including its commanders and soldiers, his office said in a statement Sunday evening.
Netanyahu remains firm in his conviction that the comparison that was made to Nazi Germany was inappropriate and damaged Israel in the international arena, the Prime Minister’s Office said, but added that army officers were free to express their opinions in relevant forums on topics that fall within their purview.
The IDF is the army of the people and it must remain outside of politics, the PMO said.
Meanwhile, on the center-left, lawmakers criticized the prime minister for his summoning of Ya'alon.
Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, said that "Ya'alon was right."
"The IDF is the most moral army in the world, but that is only because it is constantly holding open, courageous discussions about its values and the dilemmas that it faces," Lapid said. "Officers may err at times [in their statements], but it is preferable to have officers who think and make mistakes than officers that do not ask themselves questions about morality."
"What are Netanyahu and Ya'alon going to discuss?" said Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich. "I'm trying to figure out what Ya'alon said to the officers that was so outlandish and controversial."
"What did he say that lit the prime minister's fuse and upended his philosophy?" Yacimovich said. "What is it that he found so unacceptable? What did Ya'alon say on Sunday that was like a poke in the eye which causes Bibi (Netanyahu's nickname) to lose his temper?"
"What is amazing and extraordinary about the defense minister's speech to the IDF high command was the sad fact that his obvious statements, which are given and which are so vastly different from Netanyahu's fulminations and political grandstanding, became headline news instead of being looked at as what they are – simple, moral, clear-cut, obvious, acceptable statements in the eyes of every normal person in the state of Israel."Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.