Bayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett 390.
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Bayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett stirred controversy Thursday night when he said he would ask to be exempted from orders to remove settlers from their homes were he in such a position and flirted with the possibility of order refusal.
"It is an integral part of being a soldier to refuse orders on matters of conscience," Bennett said in an interview on Channel 2's "Mishal Cham" program.
"If I would receive an order to remove a Jew from his house and expel him, me personally, my conscience would not allow it. I would ask the commander for an exemption."
"I would not call publicly to refuse orders," he added, but continued on to say, "When a black flag flies over an order, you don't carry it out. To expel people from this land is a horrendous thing. I will work with all my soul and with all my strength not to allow that to happen." In the IDF, soldiers are taught they they should refuse an order if it is patently illegal and immoral, such as targeting civilians.
The statements elicited condemnations from across the political spectrum. Vice Premier and former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon said on Friday that Bennett's words hurts both the IDF and the political Right.
"This statement, first of all, hurts the IDF, because the army is founded on carrying out orders," Ya'alon said in an interview with Army Radio.
"As someone opposed to displacing settlements, I think that it also hurts the Right in Israel, because if you support and justify refusing orders, then what can we say to [Meretz Leader] Zehava Gal-On, [Labor candidate] Merav Michaeli and their friends on the Left when they refuse to send their children to Judea and Samaria?" he said.
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich on Friday said Bennett crossed a dangerous line, because such words from people in his position amounted to "a call to civil disobedience, no less."
Israel and the IDF are strong enough to absorb refusals from the extreme fringes of the Right and Left, she said, but as Bennett leads a major party and may hold a cabinet ministry in the next government, his words hold more sway.
"When refusal penetrates into the mainstream of society and its leadership, it endangers us as a society, a people and a nation," she said. "Refusing orders is dangerous because it undermines the democratic foundations of the country," she said. "It's anti-state and it questions the decisions of a government that is democratically elected by the nation."
Tzipi Livni Party candidate Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Elazar Stern on Friday said any call to defy orders, whether from the Right or the Left, should be condemned.
"Calls that up until now were the purview of extremists have turned into a dangerous political line," Stern said, adding that attempts to split the loyalties of religious youth were "not ethical, not legal and not Zionist."
"The extreme policies of recent years are encouraging extreme utterances that endanger our most basic social values," he said.
Following the Thursday interview, Bennett posted a message on his Facebook page explaining his comments.
"I oppose with all my heart and soul the refusal of orders," he wrote, adding that he carried out every order he was given in his 22 years of IDF service. He also reiterated his position that "the government of Israel made a grave error supporting a Palestinian state in our land."
Bayit Hayehudi candidate Moti Yogev came to Bennett's defense on Friday .
"He did not call for refusing orders," Yogev said in an interview with Israel Radio. "He said on a personal, emotional level that he wouldn't be able to, and would be willing to pay for it. Nobody called publicly for refusing IDF orders."