Herzog, Lapid Slam Netanyahu for Not Backing Chief of Staff After 'Scissors Speech' Backlash

Netanyahu, opposition politicians say, remains silent while members of his cabinet criticize Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for supporting restraint in the face of the current terror wave.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot at a ceremony on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, April 19, 2015.
Emil Salman

Opposition parties in the Knesset are taking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to task for what they claim is his failure to come to the defense of Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in the face of criticism of the army chief by members of Netanyahu's cabinet. The criticism of Eizenkot came over comments he made Wednesday supporting a measure of restraint in the army's open fire regulations even in the face of the current wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Speaking at a suburban Tel Aviv high school on Wednesday, Eisenkot defended the army's rules of engagement. When a student suggested that restraint was putting Israeli lives at risk, Eisenkot asserted that the rules were satisfactory and correct, saying: "I don't want a soldier to empty a magazine on a girl with scissors."

The following day Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of Netanyahu's Likud party, wrote on his Facebook page: "A short time ago two Israelis in [the region of] Binyamin were wounded in stabbings by two 14-year-old terrorists," referring to an attack carried out at a Rami Levy supermarket in a West Bank settlement industrial zone. "The terrorists were captured and remain alive. I hope the remarks of the chief of staff, who I respect and hold in high regard, against automatically firing at juveniles, hasn't been misinterpreted, causing hesitation and risk to life, because sometimes the message is larger than the words." Terrorists must not remain alive if they endanger Jewish lives, he added. 

Joining Transportation Minister Katz in criticizing Eisenkot was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who told Channel 2 television: "In the international community, they love to accuse Israel of excessive use of force. The comments of the chief of staff don't serve the description of the reality on the ground" and also do not serve Israel in the diplomatic arena. By contrast, however, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who is also a Likud member, has backed Eisenkot over what he said.

Speaking on Saturday to an audience in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion, opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union reportedly cautioned against injecting the IDF into the political debate. "It's the army of all of us, but Netanyahu has forsaken the chief of staff to the messianics on the extreme right. The chief of staff doesn't need a defense from Knesset members from the opposition. The IDF needs the prime minister to stand up and back his commander, and he hasn't done that."

For his part, Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, said the security forces must get full backing for their work and for the existing open fire orders. "The attack on the chief of staff is an attack on the IDF," he reportedly told an audience in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot on Saturday, adding that politicization of the army will not be tolerated.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also came to Eisenkot's aid on Saturday, telling Channel 2 that he highly appreciates the chief of staff and fully backs his remark. "I think he was misunderstood, he merely clarified the open fire regulations."