homesh idf evac sign 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Miri Tzachi (Homesh Tehila))
The Kfir Division soldiers who held up a banner expressing political sentiments during their swearing-in ceremony committed a severe act that could pose a threat not only to the military but also to the state, said Defense Minister Ehud Barak said during Wednesday afternoon's Knesset plenum meeting.
"The defense establishment will not allow such behavior," said Barak, reminding the MKs listening that as punishment for their actions, the soldiers were sentenced to 20 days in military prison and permanently expelled from their division. "The IDF must not be involved in political controversy, including the evacuation of settlements," he said.
The incident occurred last week, during a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall for new recruits to the infantry's Shimshon Battalion.
Halfway through the ceremony, two of the soldiers present lifted a banner protesting the evacuation of the Samaria settlement Homesh during the 2005 disengagement. Illegal outposts at the settlement site are cleared periodically by the IDF.
"Shimshon does not evacuate Homesh," read the banner, drawing controversy and suspicion of pro-settlement sentiments undermining military discipline.
Barak called the soldiers' actions "an irregular incident which caused damage to the IDF and the state," stressing that there was "no place" for subversive behavior in Israel's military.
"The IDF acted and will continue to act within the framework of the law, from which its authority and strength are derived," he said. "We cannot afford a recurrence of such incidents."
The defense minister expressed his concern over "the use of the IDF and its commanders to promote political viewpoints," which could undermine the principles of democracy and "cause a tear in the fabric of society."
Barak maintained that the status of IDF soldiers within the military establishment was well-defined, saying that "when in uniform, they carry out their commanders' orders and nothing else."
Barak stated, however, that soldiers who wished to express their views possessed the right to vote.
"Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy," he said, calling on those assembled to "exercise national responsibility" and distinguish between freedom of expression and subversive behavior which threatens to weaken both "the army and the state."
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.