Netanyahu Summons Ya'alon for Clarifications Over Speech Urging Officers to Speak Their Mind

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PM Netanyahu, right, with Defense Minister Ya'alon, on Dec. 10, 2014.
PM Netanyahu, right, with Defense Minister Ya'alon, on Dec. 10, 2014.Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has summoned Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon for clarifications over a speech in which he urged Israeli army officers to speak their minds, even if it contradicts the government's policy.

The meeting, which took place Monday morning, was "not a reprimanding" of Ya'alon, a source close to Netanyahu said beforehand. "The prime minister wants to know why Ya'alon was pressed to reopen the issue now," they said. A source close to Ya'alon confirmed the meeting was to take place, but said "they don't know why."

Ya'alon's speech came after IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan likened recent developments in Israeli society to processes that unfolded in Europe before the Holocaust, setting off a political storm that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blast the statement as "outrageous."

Speaking Sunday evening during an Independence Day event, Ya'alon urged army officers to view themselves not just as military leaders, but also as educators. He urged those present to speak their minds "even if [what you have to say] isn't part of the mainstream, even if it differs from the postions and ideas voiced by senior commanders or the political leadership."

Deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, during a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, May 5, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

A response by the Prime Minister's Office was published even before Ya'alon had even completed his speech, and said: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives his full support to the IDF, its commanders and its soldiers. The prime minister is adamant in his opinion that the comparison to Nazi Germany was inappropriate, both in content and timing and caused [Israel] international damage," the statement said, adding that "Army commanders voice their options freely in the reverent forums on issues for which they are responsible. The IDF is the people's army and it needs to be kept clean from political divisions."

Former defense minister Amir Peretz, now an opposition lawmaker with the Zionist Union, came to Ya'alon's defense against what he termed the Netanyahu-led radical right.

"Netanyahu's pretending that IDF officers have no problem voicing their opinions is hypocrisy and turning a blind eye to the public slander he himself is orchestrating against Ya'alon [and Golan]. The defense minister should examine whether he still has a place in the radical right Netanyahu leads," Peretz said.

Referring to the case of an Israeli soldier facing manslaughter charges for shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant to death in Hebron last month, Ya'alon said that in recent months "we have found ourselves struggling to address a new radical minority, active mostly on social media. Part of its ideals has crept and trickled into the mainstream of our society and is now trying to influence the IDF and its values and characters.

"This is a battle not just over the character of the IDF, but of also over our society," he said, adding that a continued attack on the army and Israel's values could lead to a "disaster" for Israel.