Compared to Netanyahu, Ya'alon Represents Sane Right-wing Leadership

Despite all of the defense minister's attributes and accomplishments, his name never comes up in the political analyses of 'the day after Netanyahu,' if such a day ever comes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 2015
Emil Salman

It happened during yet another of the endless crises at Israel Channel 10. Station employees ran from one cabinet member to another, looking for someone who would dare to go to the prime minister and speak out against the channel’s closure. I wasn’t there, but I gather that nearly all the ministers were welcoming. Some even eagerly reported taking action behind the scenes to help the channel, actually talking about it to Benjamin Netanyahu. The meeting with then-Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon lasted seven minutes. Ya’alon spoke very little, and the implication was that the defense minister aspirant had no real intention of endangering his future by quarreling with Netanyahu over an issue that wasn’t even in his wheelhouse.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation discussed the issue Sunday. Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon explained, behind closed doors, that it’s real idiocy, they were talking about rescheduling one of the station’s debts. This was ostensibly on his turf, but he was presumably afraid of Netanyahu and didn’t want to argue the point with him. And then, a statement was released on Ya’alon’s behalf, ripping into the decision not to comply with the channel’s request and hinting heavily that the motives weren’t entirely pure.

It’s interesting Ya’alon never tried to claim the credit, at least not with me. In those days I was accustomed to Knesset members whispering to me in the corridors of the legislature that they, and only they, had saved Channel 10 (and my job). Perhaps Defense Minister Ya’alon, who is more sophisticated. Perhaps he counted on Channel 10 folks remembering without having to be prompted — after all, I am writing these words now — but Ya’alon’s very impressive record when it comes to good government, the rule of law and the courts cannot be ignored.

Ya’alon does not stutter in the face of court decisions ordering the evacuation of unauthorized settlement outposts. He unhesitatingly came out against the far right, stood by President Reuven Rivlin and gave the Shin Bet full support in investigating the Duma arson murders. Compared to Netanyahu, who on these issues speaks belatedly and haltingly, if at all, Ya’alon is like a breath of fresh air. He also has a consistent policy on issues that could be called — God help us — liberal. Ya’alon supports LGBT rights, including the right to civil marriage, and even delivered a speech decrying attacks against victims of sexual harassment, a stand that was interpreted as support for Racheli Rottner, the Israeli journalist whose complaint against Yinon Magal was instrumental in prompting the former Habayit Hayehudi MK to resign.

What’s amazing about all of this is that in the political analyses of “the day after Netanyahu,” if such a day ever comes, Ya’alon never comes up. Gideon Sa’ar is always mentioned, and while the erstwhile education minister who resigned from the cabinet and the Knesset over a year ago continues to attend the functions of Likud Central Committee members with improbably frequency, it’s not clear what he brings to the succession fight besides being anti-Bibi. Even Yisrael Katz, bizarrely enough, has been mentioned as a possible successor (mainly by himself). But not Ya’alon.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a potential voter. I haven’t forgiven Ya’alon his remarks against the U.S. administration, I don’t think he has much to be proud of in the outcome of Operation Protective Edge, and I think his position on “managing the conflict” is a surefire recipe for perpetuating the madness. Ya’alon repeatedly says that if we don’t have a military presence in Judea and Samaria, Hamas will take over. Let’s say he’s right. He doesn’t explain how the presence of tens of thousands of settlers helps national security. Nor is his conduct in the Locker Committee affair and in regard to the defense budget anything to brag about. Still, with Ya’alon I know we won’t need to analyze his wife’s personality in detail, we’ll have difficulty remembering his children’s names and I’m guessing he won’t be called in for questioning by the police fraud squad anytime soon.

In Israel’s terrible leadership vacuum, where the other side lacks a viable challenger to Netanyahu, Ya’alon at least presents the potential for sane leadership on the right.

The writer is a journalist with Israel Channel 10 News.