A growing chorus of politicians from both sides of the aisle on Saturday criticized remarks by Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Thursday that seemingly advocated insubordination among IDF soldiers who oppose the evacuation of settlements.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Saturday echoed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critical comments Friday, by saying public figures are forbidden from talking about refusing orders, even if they don’t match one’s outlook.
Speaking at a public function in Holon, Sa’ar said that the IDF’s existence is founded on obeying orders handed down by the government.
“I personally opposed the disengagement plan [from the Gaza Strip in 2005], and I even voted against it in the Knesset, but I called for honoring the democratic decision of the majority,” he said.
Bennett, the leader of the hardline Jewish Home party, who still serves in the IDF reserves, indicated during an 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.
“If I am ever given an order to evacuate a Jew from his home… personally, my conscience won’t allow me to do it; I’ll ask my commander to grant me an exemption, [but] I won’t call for [mass] insubordination,” Bennett said during a heated conversation with Channel 2 interviewer Nissim Mishal. Pressed about the values he instilled in his soldiers as an officer in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, Bennett said: “I taught them that a command that’s topped by a black flag should not be carried out.” The “black flag” terminology refers to the IDF ethos that an order that is patently illegal must not be obeyed.
“To kick people off of this land is a terrible thing; I’ll do whatever it takes to prevent it from happening again,” stressed Bennett, whose party is polling at 11-12 seats ahead of next month’s elections.
Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich wrote on her Facebook page that Bennett’s statements undermine the country’s democratic principles and the elected government’s decisions, and called them “a call to civil rebellion.”
“Our democracy can tolerate dissent from the right and left when it’s done by individuals who come from the radical fringes, but when insubordination penetrates the mainstream of society and its leadership, it endangers us as a society, as a nation, and as a state,” she said.
“Serving in the IDF is not a program you can pick and choose. As a politician, it is Bennett’s right to fight for his positions, but if they are not adopted, it is his obligation as a soldier and citizen to obey the law.
Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, on Saturday renewed his criticism of Bennett’s statement “granting permission to sedition,” adding that, like Sa’ar, though he opposed the 2005 disengagement, he executed it.
“If you don’t support a political move then it’s a ‘black flag’?” Ya’alon asked. “Whoever says such an irresponsible thing can’t take part in governance. Whoever wants to participate in the government needs to retract permitting — or even suggesting — insubordination,” he said.
Former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri of the Yesh Atid party denounced Bennett’s comments as a “borderline scandal.”
“Bennett is an officer in the IDF and is absolutely forbidden from calling for insubordination, even if it serves him politically. It is forbidden to involve politics in the sacred [IDF] value of obeying orders and protecting our security,” he said.
Netanyahu on Friday slammed the Jewish Home party’s chairman for his apparent justification of insubordination.
“Anyone who upholds insubordination will not serve in my Cabinet,” said Netanyahu without mentioning Bennett by name, adding that talk of refusing orders was “very grave.” He said Israel’s well-being depends on respect for the IDF. When it was pointed out to him that certain Likud politicians, including likely incoming MK Moshe Feiglin, also favor refusing IDF orders to evacuate settlements, Netanyahu again said nobody who took such a position could serve as a minister in his government.
Ron Friedman contributed to this report.