Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to his office on Monday for a “clarification meeting” after the two came head to head on Sunday evening in a public exchange of remarks regarding the IDF.
Speaking to the IDF’s top brass, including the IDF chief and other generals, Ya’alon urged the military leadership to “continue acting according to human conscience and compass, rather than follow the direction the wind blows.”
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While the defense minister was still speaking at the ceremony in the Kirya Army Headquarters in Tel Aviv, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives his full backing to the IDF, its commanders and soldiers.
The PMO statement went on to further condemn a controversial statement made by Deputy IDF Chief Yair Golan on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, noting that “the prime minister remains steadfast in his opinion that the comparison (of events unfolding in Israel) to Nazi Germany was inappropriate, made at an inappropriate time, and caused Israel damage on the international stage. The IDF’s commanders freely speak their minds—in relevant forums and on topics under their purview. The IDF is the army of the people, and should be kept out of political disputes.”
Several high-ranked IDF officers have recently found themselves under criticism, the most recent of which was the IDF deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, who warned at a ceremony on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day of processes that happened in Germany of the 1920s and 1930s, which he now sees happening in Israel today.
If there is something that frightens me about the memory of the Holocaust, it is seeing the abhorrent processes that took place in Europe, and Germany in particular, some 70, 80 or 90 years ago, and finding manifestations of these processes here among us in 2016, ” Golan said at the Masua Holocaust Institute in Tel Yitzhak.
Golan’s speech was met with scathing criticism from all directions, including from the prime minister himself who condemned the comparison made by the deputy IDF chief as “outrageous” and noted the remarks “wrong Israeli society and cheapen the Holocaust.”
The defense minister and prime minister have also found themselves at odds over Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was charged with manslaughter after shooting dead an already-neutralized terrorist in Hebron.
While the defense minister and the top military ranks condemned the incident and called to bring the soldier to justice, the prime minister called the soldier’s father to offer words of support.
“A good army is one whose commanders, both junior and senior, feel confident in their ability to speak their minds at any given time, knowing they will not suffer for it, ” Ya’alon said on Sunday evening.
“Do not fear, do not hesitate, do not be deterred. Continue to be brave not just on the battle field, but also around the discussions table. Keep speaking your mind. Do so even if what you have to say is not in line with the consensus, and even if it disputes ideas and positions that the senior command or the political echelons adopted. This is my demand from you, senior IDF commanders, and this should be your demand of your subordinates.”
Ya’alon warned that “over the past few months, we have found ourselves fighting against an extremist minority that acts both on the ground and on social media. A part of this fringe group also made its way to the mainstream, under cover and guise, and is trying to influence the character and values of the IDF.”
“This is a significant struggle like no other, perhaps the most vital and important one in many years, ” Ya’alon said. “Not just over the character of the IDF, but also the character of Israeli society. The continued undermining of the moral and ethical strength of the IDF and of Israeli society will be disastrous for the State of Israel. I will admit to you that the issue has caused me to lose sleep, but it also makes me determined to win this battle. As someone who received the world and all that is in it from the IDF, and acknowledges the importance of safeguarding its values, I have no intention to back down on the matter. For me, and I know that for you as well, this is my true mission.”
Ya’alon went on to claim that “this isn’t a matter of right-wing or left-wing, as the sane majority in Israeli society, across the political spectrum, seeks to keep the IDF as a moral army, and its soldiers and commanders as moral and humane. They are indeed moral, and if there are any who deviate from these norms—we know how to deal with them, and will not allow soldiers to be trigger-happy, inciting and vengeful, or to lose their senses. We will back anyone who innocently errs, but will show no tolerance to those who digress from their authority and act in contravention of the law and our values.”
Ya’alon argued that having an ethical and moral army was “first and foremost, before the advanced weapons and accurate intelligence, the guarantee to our security.”
He said that “the IDF imbibes from Israeli society, and Israeli society imbibes from the IDF. The mutual influence makes you, the commanders, into educational figures as well: Those who know how to use force when necessarily, but also understand the limitations of that force; those who maintain humility, integrity and honesty, and do not allow arrogance to have command of their agenda. The IDF was and remains the central melting pot of the State of Israel, and as such we must protect and preserve it, and not allow violent and inciting elements, or those who influence soldiers, into it.”
Ynet News, by Yoav Zitun, Itamar Eichner, Moran Azulay