Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett yesterday attempted some damage control over his remarks Thursday in support of refusing a military order to evacuate Jewish settlements or unauthorized outposts.
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"A soldier must carry out the army's orders," Bennett said last night at a press conference, before accusing the media and rival parties of twisting his words. In weekend television interviews Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, alluding to Bennett's remarks, that no one who supported the refusal of orders would sit on his cabinet.
Bennett retaliated against Netanyahu last night, saying, "Likud's obsession, on the eve of the election, with the question of whether soldiers will again evict Jews from their homes says it all: Likud, in partnership with the left, is liable to hit us with another disengagement."
Rival politicians had jumped on Bennett's earlier remarks when, on Channel 2 television's "Nissim Mishal Interviews," he said: "If I receive an order to evict a Jew from his house and expel him, personally my conscience wouldn't allow it," adding, "I'd ask my commander to exempt me. But I wouldn't publicly call for disobeying orders."
According to the latest opinion polls, Bennett's party stands to take five Knesset members' worth of votes from the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket. Likud's attacks on his remarks was presumably an attempt to return some religiously observant voters to the fold who are in danger of leaving it for Habayit Hayehudi. Centrist parties sought to preempt a coalition that includes Bennett's party, in a bid to leave the door open to their own coalition possibilities.
MKs Michael Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad of the National Union, meanwhile, expressed "regret over Bennett's retraction, and his statement that he is not calling for the refusal of orders."
On the other side of the political spectrum, Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich said: "The refusal of orders is dangerous whether it comes from the right or the left. It is many times more dangerous when it penetrates the centrist stream in Israeli society and when the leader of a party gives it legitimacy."
After Bennett's recasting of his remarks, Labor MK Eitan Cabel said, "No statement can roll back the wheel and erase the grave things Naftali Bennett said. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing, who with sweet words relays extreme and dangerous messages that do not align with the interest of maintaining Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state."