Ya’alon launches attack on Netanyahu

Israel’s former defence minister accused the PM of ‘generating hatred in order to survive’


Israel’s former chief of staff and defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, launched a swingeing attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Limmud session this week, accusing him of “generating hatred in order to survive”, particularly in the face of future corruption indictments.

Mr Ya’alon is the head of a small political party in the Knesset which works with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Both, as the Haaretz and JC journalist Anshel Pfeffer explained, had previously supported the head of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, but that partnership broke down when Mr Gantz had — contrary to previous promises — entered into government with Mr Netanyahu.

But Mr Ya’alon, previously a member of Likud, fell out bitterly with the prime minister in 2016 over two scandals in Israel; the purchase of German submarines, alleged to have been linked to bribes, and the shooting of a captured Palestinian assailant in Hebron by an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria.

Mr Ya’alon told Mr Pfeffer: “We have to bring Israel back onto the right track, that of a Jewish, democratic state.” He said he had, as defence minister, refused to allow Mr Netanyahu to sign the submarines contract with Germany [the deal was eventually signed in October 2016  after Mr Ya’alon’s resignation in May of that year]; and he complained that the prime minister, after originally condemning Azaria for shooting dead the disarmed Palestinian, had “embraced” the soldier and his family. “He understood there was an opportunity to exploit the incident,” Mr Ya’alon said. “I couldn’t tolerate it”.

He accused the prime minister of “generating hatred and victimisation in order [to keep] political power”, particularly in relation to Israeli Arabs. As chief of staff, Mr Ya’alon said, he had commanded Israeli Arab soldiers who were both Muslim and Christian, and he deplored Mr Netanyahu’s rhetoric.

Asked by Mr Pfeffer if he had had second thoughts about accepting support from the Arab political party, the Joint List, in the last election, Mr Ya’alon explained: “The Joint List don’t want to join the government”. Nevertheless, he believed that Israel was “witnessing a process of Israelisation” on the part of its Arab citizens and he felt everything should be done to provide their civil rights, including asking them to take part in some sort of national service, in order to integrate them as fully as possible into society.

He strongly criticised the prime minister for his handling of the Covid crisis, challenging the repeated lockdowns and their “disastrous” effect on the economy, and concessions to the strictly Orthodox in yet another bid to retain political support. And he said there was a crisis of leadership: “It’s not about right versus left, it’s about right against wrong, about honesty versus corruption, about truth versus lies”. These, he said, were the choices facing Israel in its next election in March.

As the Limmud session was taking place, there were renewed political alliances being forged in Israel: Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn deserted Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, while the Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, was also expected to leave Mr Gantz.

Mr Ya’alon, who comes from a working-class, Labour-supporting, kibbutz background, said the Likud Party he had joined after leaving the army was different from the Likud of today. He had left Likud in 2016 because he believed Mr Netanyahu was taking it in a wrong direction. “Now there is an awakening”, he said, pointing to politicians such as Gidon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett also distancing themselves from the PM.

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