Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev was suspended Monday from attending meetings of the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the next two months after he disclosed classified information in contravention of regulations.
Bar-Lev on Tuesday dismissed reports that he had directly handed over information to the media, insisting that he had merely failed to properly classify letters he had written to the defense minister and the head of the committee, MK Ze’ev Elkin, regarding conflicting reports from IDF officials to the committee about its budget.
Elkin announced Bar-Lev’s suspension Monday morning. According to a statement from Elkin’s office, he agreed with Bar-Lev that the matter should be looked into, and that leaks could not be tolerated.
In an interview with Army Radio Tuesday, Bar-Lev said that it had been an unintentional mistake and that he and Elkin together agreed that he wouldn’t attend meetings until the end of the Knesset’s summer session.
He insisted that nobody had the right to suspend him from the committee.
“It is my job as a member of Knesset to criticize the work of the defense establishment,” he said. “When we approved the annual budget they presented us with one thing, and then this week senior officers presented something different. When part of the [budgetary] constraints go unreported or are reported on inaccurately, our job is to ask the defense minister and [head of the committee] for an explanation.
“I think that, from a civil and national perspective, we are obliged to report the truth to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and allow it to deliberate,” he added.
In a statement from his office, Bar-Lev said that the committee should be more concerned with investigating the conflicting reports from the IDF than with a minor crime that does not harm state security.
A senior defense official attacked Bar-Lev after his interview, telling Army Radio that the MK, a former officer in the army, had “acted irresponsibly and leaked confidential information from a classified committee, just to get publicity and harm the defense establishment.”
Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on criticized Bar-Lev’s suspension in a statement, accusing the committee and particularly Elkin of hypocrisy. She pointed out that an investigation two years earlier had revealed that Elkin had “passed classified information on IDF movements and military operation in the West Bank to the ‘price tag’ headquarters, which collected information on [IDF forces] in order to thwart evacuations of illegal settlements.”
“No action was taken against Elkin, if there was any doubt,” she added.
Elkin has claimed that he conveyed the information to the settlers at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to quell tensions between the IDF and the settlers.