Editorial

Defense Chief Cynically Exploits Israeli Army as Part of His Election Campaign

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.
Emil Salman

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett continues to exploit the Defense Ministry and use it as the election campaign headquarters of Hayamin Hehadash. After threatening Hamas and Iran, declaring plans for annexation, trying to turn infiltrators from Gaza into bargaining chips and other right-wing, populist declarations, on Saturday night he made time for his war on left-wing activists.

In an unprecedented move, Bennett ordered the Israel Defense Forces to issue restraining orders – without a judge’s approval, signed by an army command chief – against left-wing activists who belong to the group Anarchists Against the Wall. This Israeli group was founded in 2003 in connection with Palestinian activity against the construction of the separation barrier, and in recent years, a minimal number of people have participated in its demonstrations. The decision targets some 30 Israelis, among them Jonathan Pollak, a Haaretz employee currently under arrest.

The administrative restraining order is frequently used against Palestinians. Among Israelis, however, it has only been used against right-wing activists suspected of committing hate crimes against Palestinians. Now, Bennett said, it will also be “used against the anarchist left.” The wink to his electorate in the territories is clear: Now those opposing the occupation and settlement expansion will be dealt with by the Defense Ministry, as if they were members of Hamas.

Bennett is creating a false symmetry of “extremists on both sides.” He promises to level those measures equally at right-wingers and those who commit anti-Arab “price tag” attacks and left-wing anarchists – as if violence is equally common on both sides, and as if one can compare hate crimes against Palestinians to the struggle against the occupation and its injustices.

This is cheap demagoguery that denies the inherent inequality between a sovereign state that’s a nuclear power with one of the strongest armies in the world, and a people without a country who have been subject to Israeli military rule for more than 50 years. Moreover, the Shin Bet security service has no evidence of violence among left-wing demonstrators, let alone violence that requires such draconian measures as administrative restraining orders.

After his passionate outcry on Facebook against running in the election with Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has a picture of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein hanging on his wall at home, Bennett seeks to balance the impression that the settler electorate might have gotten of his “leftist” leanings. Bennett wants the settlements and the outposts to stay calm: See? He’s committed to cracking down on leftists “in order to disperse the protests and minimize the harm to Israeli soldiers.”

The attempt to portray Anarchists Against the Wall as a security threat is cheap manipulation by a cynical politician who insists on inserting the IDF into the political storm and turning generals’ orders into part of his election campaign.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.