Two prominent center-left Israeli politicians launched bitter protests against the hawkish trend of the Israeli government on Friday night. Former prime minister Ehud Barak warned of “seeds of fascism” in the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and current Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman as defense minister over Moshe Ya’alon marked a national “crisis of ethics.”
“This isn’t merely a political event,” Livni told Channel 2’s nightly news broadcast. “This is a crisis — not only of leadership but of ethics.”
Ya’alon quit political life Friday morning, citing his “lack of faith” in the prime minister, a former close ally. He did, he said, intend to make a comeback in the future.
Netanyahu, Livni said, “had a choice between two ministers of defense, one who backed the army’s code of ethics and its top echelons and its commanders, and the second who went to demonstrate against them.” She was referring to Liberman’s appearance at the military courthouse where Elor Azaria, a soldier who recently shot dead a wounded Palestinian attacker in Hebron, was on trial for manslaughter. “Netanyahu made his choice,” Livni said mournfully.
Meanwhile, former prime minister and defense minister Barak made similar comments to Channel 10 on Friday night, saying Liberman’s appointment marked an “infection of the seeds of fascism” in the Israeli government.
“Life-affirming Zionism and seeds of fascism cannot exit together,” Barak said in a video interview from New York. Barak himself served as Netanyahu’s defense minister five years, and, like Ya’alon, previously led the Israeli army as its chief of staff.
The veteran politician, who is officially retired from political life, called the circumstances in which Ya’alon was removed from his post a “purge,” employing the term used to describe the elimination of political opponents by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union.
“The termination of Bogie is the last link in a chain,” Barak said, calling Ya’alon by his nickname. He said the chain of events that led to Ya’alon’s ouster began some two months ago, with the rift between the army and the government over Azaria.
Ya’alon at the time sided with the army and strongly condemned the soldier’s actions, while Netanyahu at first condemned but later became ambiguous regarding his stance on the incident. More recently, Ya’alon also backed deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who warned earlier this month that he recognized in Israel today echoes of the spirit that could be seen in Germany before the outbreak of World War II.
These events, Barak said, held up a mirror to Israel’s government and its society. Ya’alon, he said, stood against the “hostile takeover of Israel’s leadership by [those] who are strangers to the spirit of the State of Israel and to the spirit of the IDF.”
Barak vehemently condemned Liberman’s nomination as defense minister, which he called “a wrong and disgraceful appointment.”
“Taking the best person and removing him and putting a person with no experience in his stead is wrong and disgraceful,” he said.
Liberman’s appointment “is an expression of a very troubling state of mind among the decision-makers, and I pray we won’t need to pay too heavy a price,” Barak warned.
Regardless of Liberman’s lack of experience, the former leader said, every MK needs to read the attorney general’s decision not to indict him in a previous corruption case.
Barak said he had read “all 52 pages” of the decision, adding that “if Netanyahu has not read it, it casts doubt on his sense of responsibility, and if he has, [it casts doubt] on his sense of judgment.”
A government with Liberman and without Ya‘alon “must fall, before it topples us all,” he said.
In a brief response issued after the interview with Barak was aired, Liberman said that Barak had no right to judge, as he “left in his path a heritage of failed operations and unsuccessful military campaigns.”