Ya'alon tells PM he was misunderstood

Strategic Affairs minister tells Netanyahu that he didn't intend to criticize the government's policies.

yaalon with flag sombre 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yaalon with flag sombre 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not fire Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon on Thursday for controversial comments he made on Sunday in a speech to the Likud's Manhigut Yehudit forum of Netanyahu's nemesis, Moshe Feiglin. Ya'alon participated in a high-level consultation with Netanyahu and other top officials after the meeting, indicating that Ya'alon had not been fired from the full cabinet, the security cabinet or the prestigious six-member inner cabinet. Ya'alon told Netanyahu that his words had been misunderstood. He said he did not intend to criticize the government's policies, and he apologized if his words were interpreted that way. In his speech on Sunday in the capital, Ya'alon denounced the power of the press and other "elites" in Israel and called Peace Now "a virus." The IDF often had to clean up the mess left behind by "politicians' peace doves," he said. "I for one am not afraid of the Americans," Ya'alon said. "I believe that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the land of Israel, forever." Government officials said Ya'alon's comments would have diplomatic ramifications, because it would be difficult for Netanyahu to explain abroad how such a senior official, someone who was his minister for strategic affairs and a member of his inner cabinet, did not speak for him or the government. Any attempt by the prime minister to say in private meetings that there was no need to pay attention to Ya'alon were likely to fall on deaf ears, the officials said, since Ya'alon is considered abroad to be a security expert who very much has the prime minister's ear. Indeed, Ya'alon's office, along with that of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, have become regular stopping grounds for foreign visitors trying to get a read on government policy. While one official said he didn't think Ya'alon's statement about not being afraid of America would cause any strain in relations with the US, "it certainly didn't help anything." "It's not about the damage," the official said. "It's just that it was a childish thing to say." Ahead of the meeting, Likud ministers refused to back up Ya'alon out of fears of facing Netanyahu's wrath. The only Likud minister who defended Ya'alon in the press was Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, who used the interviews to accuse the media of overreacting because the Left was attacked and not the Right. Some Likud politicians even called on Netanyahu to punish Ya'alon, and said the prime minister made a mistake when he brought him into the party. They accused Ya'alon of being out to get Netanyahu's job and said he made his comments for political and not ideological reasons. Politicians on the Left slammed Ya'alon. The Labor Party's young guard wrote Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, calling upon him to investigate Ya'alon for sedition and incitement to commit a crime. "There is no doubt that Mussolini would be proud of Ya'alon's behavior and his style of talking," former Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni said. "Ya'alon was a failed chief of General Staff, and now he is a failed legislator. He should take lessons in democracy before he does more damage." Feiglin defended Ya'alon and accused the media of "a targeted assassination against the most positive factor in the government." Feiglin told Israel Radio that "calling Peace Now a virus is an insult to viruses, because Peace Now has caused countless more deaths than any virus." The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip said of Peace Now, "They are not a virus, they are traitors. You don't have to be chief of staff of the IDF to realize the danger caused by extreme leftist groups."•