Netanyahu to Bennett: Don't Preach to Me, I've Led More Soldiers in Battle Than You

Heated argument breaks out after education minister urges government to intervene against possible murder charges for soldier who shot prone Palestinian.

Olivier Fitoussi

An argument broke out between Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the cabinet meeting on Sunday, over the incident in Hebron last week in which an Israeli soldier was filmed shooting a prone terrorist dead. After Bennett raised the issue on his own initiative, Netanyahu accused him of politicizing the Israel Defense Forces and told him, "Don't preach to me about supporting IDF soldiers."

The question of the incident in Hebron was not on the cabinet meeting's agenda, but Bennett raised the matter in between discussions about two domestic issues. Bennett complained that the soldier has already been convicted even before he has had his day in court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting. March 27, 2016.
Reuters

"They are sealing his fate. The defense establishment is providing information detrimental to the soldier from inside the investigation and that is unfair. They are talking about a murder charge and that is outrageous in this context. The government must have its say and intervene."

According to Bennett, the government needs to give the soldier "support in deeds, not words" adding that the government "is dancing to the tune of B'Tselem" the human rights group that first filmed the incident.

Bennett blasted those who condemned the soldier, saying "we are at war against murderous Palestinian terror. At the forefront stands the soldier, and we face a test. Why was there a need to jump and condemn the soldier on Thursday [the day of the incident]? While the [army investigation] was on Friday?

"Why was the soldier taken in in handcuffs? What message does that send to soldiers?"

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attacked Bennett harshly. "Why are you pretending as if you are on the side of the soldiers and we aren't."

"If the murder charge does not suit you, speak to the Justice Minister [Ayelet Shaked from your own party]. If you don't know how to do it I can put you in touch. And if you think ministers need to decide what the charges are, speak with the justice minister. Maybe she will know how to arrange a charge the way you want it," said Erdan.

Interior Minister Arye Dery joined in on the attack on Bennett. "We are in a [public relations] war against the Palestinians, who claim we are murdering hundreds of young Palestinians. Every such incident only helps them, so we need to investigate this seriously." Dery said the posters showing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot dressed as King Achashverosh from the Book of Esther and Purim were wrong.

Bennett responded that he too objected to such depictions of Eisenkot. "So why don't you come out against it publically?" asked Dery. "We are all supportive of the IDF, it is not a matter of left and right. We need to let the defense establishment investigate and do its work." 

After Dery, it was Netanyahu's turn to respond to Bennett. "Why do you have to make everything political?" he asked.  Bennett said in response he thought it was necessary to give backing to IDF soldiers.

"I always back up IDF soldiers," said Netanyahu in anger. "I have always given support to soldiers and have led more soldiers into battle than you. So don't preach to me on this matter. We need to let them work and not turn everything into politics." 

Before the meeting began, Netanyahu partially backtracked from his initial comments on the issue, saying he was certain that the army's murder investigation would take into account the fact that "IDF soldiers deal with bloodthirsty murderers under difficult operational circumstances."

Speaking at the beginning of the government's weekly meeting, Netanyahu said "questioning the IDF's morality is outrageous and unacceptable IDF soldiers, our children, maintain a high moral standard when they deal with bloodthirsty murderers." Addressing the ongoing military probe into the incident, Netanyahu said he was "certain that in this case, like in every other case, all of the circumstances are taken into account. Thus we must all support the IDF chief of staff, the IDF and the soldiers that protect us."

Israeli soldiers surround the body of one of the two Palestinians who were killed after attacking a soldier in Hebron, March 24, 2016.
AFP

Netanyahu's comments were a backtrack of sorts from his initial response to the incident in Hebron on Thursday, at which time he claimed that the soldier's conduct does not represent the army's values and even insinuated that the soldier failed to act in accordance with the military's open-fire rules.