The head of the nationalist Jewish Home Party denied calling for insubordination in the army Saturday night, rebuffing accusations that he endorsed refusing orders when he said two days earlier that he would not evacuate settlements.
“I didn’t call for insubordination,” Naftali Bennett told a press conference he convened in Petah Tikva to address his controversial statement.
Bennett, a graduate of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit who still serves in the IDF reserves, had indicated during a Channel 2 interview Thursday that, if commanded to participate in the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, he would opt for the path of conscientious objection, hinting that he viewed the command to evacuate settlements as an illegal “black flag” command.
“If I am ever given an order to evacuate a Jew from his home… personally, my conscience won’t allow me to do it,” he said then.
On Saturday, Bennett claimed that he, as an IDF combat soldier and commander who had served in all the wars that had taken place in the previous 22 years, had not called for insubordination of any kind — “anywhere, ever.”
“If worse comes to worst, I say clearly — a soldier must follow military orders,” he said.
Bennett said that the political arena and the Likud, the party headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had “attacked” his comments Thursday and “distorted” them, taking them out of context so that it would appear as if he had called for insubordination.
“Thousands of youths might misguidedly think that I call for insubordination and follow the wrong example,” he warned, insisting that he had done no such thing. “Every intelligent viewer who watched the [Channel 2 interview] show understood that.”
Later Saturday, Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, whose joint list has been attempting to fend off Jewish Home’s growing support from the right, said his clarification comments had also included support for insubordination.
“The public needs to decide whom to believe, Bennett A or Bennett B,” the parties said in a joint statement.
Bennett said the attempts of his political rivals to misstate his words “in order to gain a few more votes” had “harmed the unity of the IDF.”
Yet he added that a command ordering the evacuation — or “uprooting” — of “an Arab village or a Jewish settlement is a severe impingement on the most basic human rights, forcing soldiers to make the heartrending choice between the principle of human rights on the one hand and that of following orders on the other. It is an unbearable dilemma that cannot be swept under the carpet, and I pray with all my heart that such a command will never be given again.”
Bennett was apparently referring to the forced evacuation of all the Jewish settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank in 2005, and other such government-ordered evacuations.
He warned that under the Likud party and “partners from the left,” soldiers would “once again evict Jews from their homes” in another Gaza-style disengagement. He called on Netanyahu to retract his support for the creation of a Palestinian state and avoid the evacuation of more settlements — a possibility he said he and the Jewish Home party were committed to preventing.
Bennett’s Thursday statement was met with harsh criticism from politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. Netanyahu, who political commentators say may be threatened by Bennett’s rapid rise and high rankings in polls — Jewish Home was heading for 11-12 seats according to polls prior to the insubordination row, eating into Likud support — criticized his rival’s ostensible endorsement of insubordination.
“Whoever speaks in favor of insubordination will not serve in my government,” the prime minister said during an interview on Channel 2, adding that he saw remarks such as Bennett’s as “very grave.”
“I believe the country’s existence rests on the army,” said the prime minister. “As [Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe] Ya’alon said, the army is built on obedience. And once you start to undermine that, no matter which side you’re on, you just cause the IDF to collapse.”
In a Channel 10 interview, Netanyahu waved his hand dismissively when his interviewer suggested Bennett as a possible future prime ministerial candidate.
He said the Jewish Home leader’s talk of refusing IDF orders was “unbelievably grave” and “utterly unacceptable.”
He added: “I’ll have no one in my government who endorses disobeying IDF orders.”