Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) urged Israelis on Thursday to end the “festival of self-flagellation,” in a statement likely directed at recent public controversy over Israeli army morality and the proportionality of its military response to terrorism.
Speaking ahead of the annual International Bible Quiz held at the Jerusalem Theater on Independence Day, Bennett called on Israelis to “stop slandering ourselves,” because “the world does this well enough on its own.
“Let’s stop the festival of self-flagellation. Let’s put aside generalizations against our people, who have for six months now been coping with a cruel wave of terrorism,” Bennett said. “Our wonderful people do so not with brutalization, but with nobility. Not with hyperbole but with rare mutual responsibility.”
Bennett’s comments came as Israelis continued to be sharply divided over the case of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier charged with manslaughter for shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian stabber in Hebron in March. In the face of strong condemnation of Azaria’s actions by top military brass, the defense minister, and the chief of staff, far-right supporters and some politicians have accused the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.
The minister’s comments appeared to be aimed at recent controversial statements by Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who warned in a strongly worded Holocaust Remembrance Day speech last week against trends of growing callousness and indifference toward those outside of mainstream Israeli society. He also appeared to draw parallels between the “brutalization” of segments of Israeli society and pre-World War II Nazi Germany.
Golan’s comments drew immediate criticism from across the political spectrum, with even those sympathizing with the general’s intent saying his choice of words and his timing were poor.
The deputy chief of staff quickly clarified his comments, saying he did not intend to compare Israel to Nazi Germany.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu castigated the general, calling the comments “outrageous” during the weekly cabinet meeting and saying that it makes light of the Holocaust. But he later said the issue has been dealt with and “is behind us.”
The education minister on Wednesday, Israel’s Memorial Day, also addressed the issue of the army’s morality, arguing that upholding Israel’s values had led to many of the IDF’s fatalities. Israel, he said, “pays a heavy price for being the most moral army in the world.”
“Jewish values often cost us dearly. And no one, no one, has the right to preach values and morality to this wonderful nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Wednesday urged soldiers to show restraint, uphold their values, and not “lose their heads” even in the heat of fighting.
“Even in the difficult moments, when your blood boils and the rage is great, woe to us if we lose our way and our values,” Ya’alon said at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Ya’alon cautioned that excessive force was liable to lead Israel to “the abyss.”
“Our path and sacred values have accompanied us for generations, and compromising them would likely lead Israel to the abyss. Use force when necessary, but also understand its limitations and ability to make us numb. Uphold the purity of arms and humanity, and let’s not lose our heads.”