Gallant said to leave room when Ben Gvir speaks

Ben Gvir, Smotrich chide IDF chief over Gaza humanitarian zones, pushing Haredi draft

Halevi says his input on conscription law warranted because IDF needs troops, despite charge of meddling in political matters, according to leaked transcript of security cabinet meeting

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi is seen holding a situational assessment in central Gaza in an image published June 16, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi is seen holding a situational assessment in central Gaza in an image published June 16, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi reportedly came under fire from far-right security cabinet ministers Sunday night over efforts to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the military along with his handling of the war in Gaza.

Selected comments from the meeting leaked to Hebrew media showed Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich chastising Halevi for apparently wading into political affairs after the IDF chief made comments encouraging Haredi men to join the military. Meanwhile, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir criticized Halevi for implementing localized pauses to improve the distribution of humanitarian aid for Palestinians.

According to several outlets, Smotrich slammed Halevi for “publishing messages and videos about the Haredim.”

“This is a political issue and a chief of staff is not supposed to speak about it. I think that the remark by the chief of staff is out of place,” he reportedly added.

“The IDF was instructed by you to draft Haredim now. Take responsibility. I know this is an unusual word here,” Halevi shot back, in an apparent slight at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli political leaders who have avoided taking responsibility for the failures that led to Hamas’s October 7 massacre. “Until then I will continue to recruit from all parts of Israeli society. The IDF needs soldiers.”

Smotrich then asserted: “You are interfering in a political issue.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 10, 2023. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

“You are wrong and misleading,” Halevi snapped back. “I am not interfering, I am working to encourage the ultra-Orthodox to enlist. The IDF needs it for security.”

In response to the report, Smotrich’s office said he condemned those who leak comments from cabinet meetings “week after week.”

The military said it does not comment on private conversations.

Ultra-Orthodox men of military age have been able to avoid being conscripted to the Israel Defense Forces for decades by enrolling in yeshivas for Torah study and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the age of military exemption. In 2017 the High Court ruled that mass exemptions to military service on a group basis are illegal and discriminatory. Successive governments have since that time tried and failed to formulate new legislation to settle the matter while requesting repeated deferrals from the court.

However, justices have shown diminishing patience, and the need to fill the military’s manpower shortfalls has become far more acute since the outbreak of the war in Gaza and the threat of war on the Lebanese border.

While being careful not to comment on any current legislation or wade into politics, Halevi endorsed integrating the ultra-Orthodox into the army during comments released on Sunday, voicing a “clear need” for Haredi soldiers.

Also during Sunday’s security cabinet meeting, Ben Gvir reportedly grumbled to Halevi that the IDF was fighting in one part of Gaza while setting aside others as humanitarian zones: “This is a mistake. This is not the way of war.”

Earlier in the day, Ben Gvir and Smotrich decried the military’s announcement of a “tactical pause” in daytime fighting along roads leading from a main goods crossing to a north-south highway, to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“I already said that the IDF is eliminating, clearing, and conquering areas and that a humanitarian area is then created for the civilian population,” Halevi responded.

“I know that during operations you commanded, you did not see it right to define humanitarian areas,” Halevi added in a swipe at Ben Gvir’s lack of military service due to involvement in extremist activity as a youth.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter then told Ben Gvir that he should try and understand Halevi when he speaks.

“With all your experience, I was probably right and you are wrong. I told you, let’s bomb Gaza. Probably a little less arrogance is needed,” Ben Gvir replied.

File: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Additionally, multiple outlets reported that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has decided to leave cabinet meetings every time Ben Gvir speaks in protest of the far-right minister.

According to Channel 12, Transportation Minister Miri Regev slammed Gallant during Sunday’s meeting when he stood up to leave; “I don’t accept this. Ben Gvir is a cabinet member, what kind of thing is this that a defense minister ignores him and walks out while he is speaking.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also reportedly expressed his disappointment over Gallant’s behavior when he returned to the room: “Why did you leave when Minister Ben Gvir spoke? They say a lot of things to me and about me that I don’t like to hear, but I never stood and left the room. Do you want to respond?”

“No comment,” Gallant was said to reply.

Gallant and Ben Gvir have clashed multiple times over the past year, with the national security minister calling on the prime minister several times to fire him.

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