Sadly, in today’s Israel, nothing is off limits or out of bounds. This includes the IDF, which for decades in Israel was considered special and one of the more appreciated and respected state institutions.
The latest episode started when the spokesman for Likud, MK Nir Barkat, revealed last week how some soldiers within the IDF Spokesperson’s Office had posted comments against Benjamin Netanyahu and the Right on their private Twitter accounts.
One example came after a shooting attack in northern Samaria. A soldier in the unit tweeted a photo showing Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, carrying an un-holstered gun crouching amid a group of children behind a car. The soldier wrote: “This picture is the essence and proves why we need to get out of the territories.”
Dagan is not one to miss an opportunity for a headline or a fight with someone on the Left. After the tweets were posted, he issued a statement and blasted IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ran Kochav.
“Ran Kochav has turned the IDF Spokesperson’s Office into a radical left-wing party,” he said. “The unit needs to be closed down and opened again. The situation in which soldiers from the Spokesperson’s Unit feel free to publicly voice opinions that fit the radical Left is indicative of the spirit of the IDF Spokesperson.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi stridently rejected the allegations.
“Any attempt to connect the IDF Spokesperson to political activities is part of a smear campaign which must be stopped immediately and has no place in Israeli public rhetoric,” Kohavi said.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid also came out in support of the unit.
“We give full backing to IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ran Kochav in the face of the disgraceful attempt to drag him into political controversy,” Lapid said. “This is part of a dangerous attempt to threaten the IDF and force it to conform to narrow political interests. Anyone who supports the IDF should come out against this smear campaign.”
It is important to note that none of the soldiers whose posts were made public are officers in the unit, and that the Spokesperson’s Unit includes over 600 soldiers and officers. Nevertheless, this did not stop Dagan or Barkat’s PR adviser from trying to defame and demonize hundreds of soldiers and more specifically, Kochav, a brigadier-general who has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to IDF service.
This paper has in the past criticized the IDF Spokesperson’s Office for its mismanagement of certain operations – the aftermath of the bombing of the Associated Press building in Gaza, the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin and more. But those criticisms were about professional aspects of the role.
At no point has this paper ever believed that Kochav or the IDF Spokesperson’s Office was pushing a political agenda. That is because ever since Kochav was appointed to the role a year and a half ago, he has done an exemplary job at keeping the IDF out of politics while the country was swinging from one election to another.
This was not an easy accomplishment. The IDF could have easily found itself accused of generating messages that seemed to be pushing a specific party line or bloc – either in favor of Netanyahu or against.
Considering that the IDF Spokesperson’s Office puts out hundreds of statements to the media every week, that evenhandedness was not easy. It was achieved because the military understood that wading into politics could only cause harm and undermine the IDF’s public standing. This success speaks to Kochav’s character.
Dagan should know better than to try to taint an IDF officer or IDF unit due to the regional council chief’s own partisan politics. We stand with the IDF Spokesperson’s Office against these baseless accusations and call on Dagan to issue an immediate apology. What he said was a direct attempt to undermine the credibility of an important state institution whose integrity is an essential asset for the IDF and the entire country.