Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned on Friday that “extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.”
Likud veteran and former IDF chief of staff Ya’alon made the startling comments at a noon press conference at army headquarters in Tel Aviv’s Kirya compound in which he formally announced his temporary resignation from politics.
“I have no intention of [permanently] leaving public life, and in the future I will return as a candidate for national leadership,” he said.
His statements were a direct challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The defense chief’s resignation comes amid a dramatic coalition shake-up in which his post has been handed to Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman in a bid to bring Liberman into Netanyahu’s razor-thin 61-seat coalition.
The imminent appointment of Liberman, an outspoken populist who has threatened to assassinate Hamas leaders and has called Arab lawmakers “traitors,” to such a sensitive post has drawn widespread criticism, including from Netanyahu supporters such as former cabinet minister Benny Begin. (Talks with Liberman have continued in recent days, but a coalition deal with his party has not yet been finalized.)
Netanyahu and Ya’alon have also sparred in recent weeks over Ya’alon’s defense of IDF prosecutors in the trial of a soldier who shot and killed a disarmed Palestinian stabber in March, and his call on Israel Defense Forces generals to speak out on moral issues.
“I worked with the prime minister harmoniously and respectfully, seriously and substantively, for a long time, and certainly during Operation Protective Edge, and for that I want to thank him,” Ya’alon said Friday.
“But to my great regret, I have found myself lately in deep disagreement over professional and ethical issues with the prime minister, a number of ministers and a few members of Knesset.
“I have fought with all my strength against radicalization, violence and racism in Israeli society, which threatens its resilience and percolates also into the IDF, already causing it harm,” he said.
“I have fought with all my strength against attempts to harm the Supreme Court and Israel’s judges, processes whose result will cause grave damage to the rule of law and could be disastrous for our country.”
Ya’alon’s fiery speech, unusual for the soft-spoken former IDF chief of staff, makes it unlikely that he will find himself returning to Likud’s ranks anytime soon.
“In general, Israeli society is a healthy society, and the majority here is sane and seeks a Jewish, democratic and liberal state, a state that accepts each person as a person, without distinction of religion, race, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, a tolerant and accepting country for the weakest and the minorities, who we have a duty to embrace and not to incite against, a country that fights unequivocally against the marginalization of women, sexual harassment toward them, or turning the [woman who comes forward] into the accused,” he affirmed.
“But to my great regret, extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.
“This is not the Likud I joined — the Likud of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin — and it is appropriate that the decisive majority of Likud voters, a sane, respectable and responsible public, understands the depth of the crisis and the recklessness of this spirit that is taking over the movement. I hope that the general public, too, on right and left, understands the serious consequences of the takeover of the center by an extremist minority, and will fight these phenomena. This is existential; the state’s existence depends on it.”
Ya’alon went on to rail against “senior politicians in our country” who “have chosen the path of division between different parts of Israeli society, instead of unity.
“It is intolerable in my view that we should be divided amongst ourselves because of cynicism and lust for power, and I have expressed this view more than once, out of a very real concern for the future of Israeli society and the future of coming generations.
“I don’t regret whatsoever these professional and ethical views, even if they have led to the end of my time as defense minister. I am comfortable with my path and will not turn away from it. I am afraid for Israel’s future, and will continue in this struggle going forward, because we have no other country.”
Earlier Friday, Ya’alon announced his resignation from the government and the Knesset, citing his lack of faith in Netanyahu.
“I notified the prime minister this morning that in the wake of his behavior during the latest developments, and in light of my lack of faith in him, I am resigning from the government and the Knesset and taking a break from political life,” Ya’alon said in a statement released to the media.
Sources close to the defense minister said the resignation would be proffered on Friday, and would go into effect within 48 hours.
He is leaving the cabinet and the Knesset, but not the Likud, they said. It was speculated that he might seek to challenge Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud or seek to form a new center-right party.