As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces an ongoing police probe on several cases of suspected corruption, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said Saturday it was “time for the state of Israel to have a prime minister who doesn’t need investigating.”
In his first interview since leaving the post in May, Ya’alon told Channel 2 news he planned to “run for national leadership” in the future, though he did not specify whether he intended to seek the premiership, or a high-ranking post in a future government.
Ya’alon, who left the government and the Likud party amidst a very public falling-out with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, added that corruption in the government “causes me to lose sleep more than the Iranian bomb does,” referring to the threat of a nuclear-armed Tehran.
Most of the interview was devoted to the case of Elor Azaria, the soldier who was convicted of manslaughter this week in the killing of a disarmed Palestinian assailant.
Ya’alon has been one of the targets of far-right rage following Azaria’s conviction, along with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the judges in the trial. Some right-wingers have accused the defense establishment of abandoning Azaria and of sealing his fate by condemning his actions before the incident had been properly probed.
Ya’alon said such sentiment was unwarranted, and that the decision to speak out against the soldier’s actions had been a joint one by himself, Eisenkot and Netanyahu.
“It was clear to us that in order to prevent a conflagration on the ground (following broadcast of a video of the killing), we had to make a statement,” he explained.
Asked why he thought the prime minister later became far more publicly supportive of the soldier, breaking ranks with Eisenkot and Ya’alon, the former minister shrugged and alluded to weak, popularity-based decision-making on Netanyahu’s part. “I assume he saw some polls,” he said.
Ya’alon said the poisonous public mood in the wake of Azaria’s trial and conviction was largely the doing of politicians who were “brainwashing” sectors of the public to believe Azaria was the victim of a court and military system rigged against him.
“I did not seal the fate of Azaria,” he said. “This whole story is a blood libel.”
The former minister insisted that no politician or military figure could have swayed the court in Azaria’s case, as the evidence was overwhelmingly against him.
He lamented the Azaria family’s rejection of a military defender who he said would have advised the soldier from the start that his chances of winning a legal battle were slim-to-none. Azaria, he said, should have expressed regret immediately and asked for clemency.
Instead, he said, addressing the family directly, “You were taken for a political ride, and you are still being taken for a political ride. You are being given foolish advice” by various interested parties.
Elor, he said, “must come forward and say ‘I made a mistake,’ express remorse. That will shorten his suffering.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Friday condemned online threats of violence against the judges who convicted Azaria. Meanwhile former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz backed his embattled successor on the case, and President Reuven Rivlin called the IDF’s commanders inspirational and a source of national pride.
The verdict also drew a flurry of threatening messages against military judge Maya Heller, who headed the tribunal that convicted Azaria on Wednesday. Security around Heller and the other two judges on the panel, Lt. Col. Carmel Wahabi and Lt. Col. Yaron Sitbo, was tightened on Wednesday, amid reports of thousands of threats of violence against them on social media and elsewhere.
Since the conviction on Wednesday, thousands of threats have also targeted Eisenkot.
According to social media tracking firm Vigo, in addition to the slogans shouted at the trial, some 2,500 posts put online as of Thursday afternoon threatened Eisenkot.
Earlier on Thursday evening, the attorney general instructed police to launch an investigation into a group of demonstrators who were captured on camera threatening Eisenkot over Azaria’s conviction.
Protesters verbally attacked Eisenkot outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where Azaria’s verdict was delivered, shouting slogans such as, “Gadi watch out, Rabin is looking for a friend,” referring to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist in 1995.
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In addition, police arrested two people on suspicion of calling for attacks against the judges. Both were released to house arrest Thursday, on condition that they stay off social media and keep away from Heller.
Azaria faces a sentencing hearing next week, with many politicians calling for him to be pardoned.
Judah Ari Gross and Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.