Israeli defense minister decries gov’t’s direction after being replaced by Liberman


(JTA) – After Israel’s outgoing defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, announced he’s quitting the Knesset, he used his outgoing address Friday as a parting salvo against everything he finds objectionable about Israel’s current government.

Yaalon warned that the ruling Likud – his party — lacks a moral compass and is sliding toward extremism. He faulted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for exacerbating Israel’s societal divisions. He condemned what he described as the justice minister’s overreach in trying to curb the power of the Supreme Court.

“Unfortunately, I have recently found myself confronted by difficult dilemmas on issues of principle and professional matters with the prime minister, a number of ministers and several Knesset members,” Yaalon said. “Israel and Likud have been taken over by extremist and dangerous entities that are undermining our home and threatening its dwellers.”

It was a last stand for a man who supporters and detractors agree always spoke his conscience, even if he had to pay a political price for it. Yaalon is also doubtless sore over how his tenure came to an end. After briefly flirting with the possibility of a national unity government with the center-left Labor Party, Netanyahu instead turned to the right. The prime minister signed a deal to bring the hard-line nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu into his ruling coalition and awarded its pugnacious leader, Avigdor Liberman, the defense portfolio.

“Senior politicians have elected to deepen and inflame divisions within Israeli society instead of promoting unity,” Yaalon said Friday, apparently referring to Netanyahu. “It is insufferable to me that we should be divided for cynical reasons.”

Likud “is no longer the movement I joined,” Yaalon said, warning that most voters “ought to realize the depth of the rift and the poisonous attitude that is taking over the movement.”

Yaalon’s broadside follows his public disagreement with Netanyahu this month over a speech by a senior army officer that seemed to liken trends in Israeli society to pre-Nazi Germany. Netanyahu condemned the officer, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, but Yaalon encouraged Israel Defense Forces officers to speak their minds.

In a statement Friday, Netanyahu expressed regret at Yaalon’s resignation and thanked him for his years of service. But he hinted that Yaalon’s anger had more to do with feeling slighted than with principle.

“I suppose that if Bogie Yaalon had not been asked to leave the Defense Ministry and move to the Foreign Ministry, we would not have what he calls a crisis of trust between us – and he would have not resigned,” Netanyahu said, using Yaalon’s nickname.

A Haifa-born kibbutznik whose socialist credentials stands out in a party founded as a counterweight to socialist Labor, Yaalon has never quite fit into Likud.

Once a champion of the hard right for his opposition to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal – he was IDF chief of staff at the time — Yaalon came under attack more recently from the right over his handling of a case involving a soldier charged with manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in Hebron.

Jewish Home lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich called for Yaalon’s resignation over the prosecution of the soldier, who says he feared the terrorist was carrying explosives. Images of Yaalon’s head appeared in crosshairs online with the caption “politically eliminated.”

Taking over for Yaalon in the Likud Knesset delegation will be Yehuda Glick, an activist who has had many run-ins with police — as well as a near-fatal shooting by terrorists — over his efforts to open the Temple Mount to Jewish worship.

Recommended from JTA