Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Monday leveled harsh criticism against lawmakers expressing support for an Israel Defense Forces soldier who shot a disarmed Palestinian assailant in the head in the West Bank city of Hebron last week, as the incident continued to snowball into a major political battle.
A preliminary investigation into Thursday’s shooting determined the incident “a case of a soldier gone bad, not a hero,” Ya’alon told Knesset members, defending the army’s investigation and the military prosecutor’s decision to charge the soldier with murder.
The soldier, whose name is being withheld from publication, was filmed Thursday shooting a wounded and nearly motionless Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron. The soldier was charged with murder Friday, drawing anger from his family, right-wing politicians and others who claim the army sold him down the river, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Without naming Bennett, Ya’alon, who has vociferously defended the army’s move to charge the soldier, kept up his attack on the minister, following a sharp exchange over the issue a day earlier.
“I regret that the coalition includes a minister who, instead of calling the defense minister before going to the media, called to encourage and support [the soldier],” he said.
On Sunday, Bennett, head of the hawkish Jewish Home party, accused senior politicians of capitulating to a left-wing agenda for their condemnation of the incident. On Monday, he claimed that there was no chance the soldier could be given a fair trial — as he had been judged guilty by the army and in the press.
But Ya’alon said the decision to charge the soldier was based not on a video from the left-wing B’Tselem human rights group showing the shooting, but on the recommendation of army officials, including the brigade commander of the soldier’s unit, the Military Police and the IDF chief of staff.
“Do you want a brutalized army that’s without a moral backbone?” Ya’alon asked.
“I am asking you not to intervene in these matters,” he urged, and added that “when someone is corrupted, they must be held accountable.”
Ya’alon noted that the brigade commander called for a criminal investigation of the incident “before the video [of the shooting] was published. Since then, there has been a Military Police investigation. It is important to state that this is how the IDF chief and the defense minister and the prime minister immediately viewed the incident. We are not like the other side.”
Ya’alon also said he would investigate the “online incitement” from lawmakers supporting the soldier, and decried the “false information and manipulative attacks” directed at IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot in the wake of the shooting.
Bennett rebuffed Ya’alon’s remarks in a later Knesset address, saying that he did not consider the soldier to be a hero and was concerned that a fair investigation into the highly politicized incident was impossible.
Bennett urged the public not to pass judgment on the soldier before the official IDF investigation was complete, recalling that a deadly “operational failure” during his army service in Lebanon did not yield the same public response.
Other lawmakers also used a Knesset discussion on a bill — allowing MKs to suspend colleagues — to address the incident, including Likud MK Oren Hazan, who said he was “proud” of the soldier.
Ya’alon’s castigation came after some right-wing Israelis, outraged by the murder charges against the soldier, organized demonstrations and online petitions in solidarity with the soldier in recent days.
A few dozen people gathered in Beit Shemesh Monday night to rally for the soldier.
During the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, ministers clashed over the manner in which the shooting should be handled, and in particular the fate of the soldier. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily defended the army’s investigation into the alleged murder even as he faced fierce criticism from Bennett over the case.
Ya’alon also struck out at Bennett, accusing him of using the incident to make political hay.
On Sunday evening, the soldier’s mother wrote an open letter to Ya’alon, saying that her son had been “forsaken by the system” and that she had not slept since his arrest. She accused the establishment of betraying her son, who “dreamed of serving the state.”
Over the weekend, placards hung near Israeli army headquarters in Tel Aviv attacked Eisenkot for allegedly “forfeiting” Jewish blood and compared him to the Persian king Ahasuerus of Purim lore.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.