The father of an IDF soldier charged with manslaughter after shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head last month in Hebron criticized far-right incitement against Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Sunday.
Ya’alon has on several occasions spoken out against the soldier’s March 24 killing of a Palestinian man who had stabbed and wounded a soldier in the West Bank city. The accomplice of 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was killed during the attack, and al-Sharif was later shot dead by the soldier as he lay wounded and disarmed on the ground.
The incident was caught on tape, making international headlines and sparking a national debate on the soldier’s conduct.
The soldier, whose name is under a gag order, is now detained on a military base awaiting court proceedings.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has been criticized for the decision to investigate the incident, and Ya’alon’s defense of the military leader and condemnation of the act brought him into the row as well.
“This is a case of a soldier gone bad, not a hero,” Ya’alon told the Knesset on March 28, as he slammed “all the fervor and false information and manipulation and attacks on the IDF chief.”
Ya’alon has subsequently reiterated his critique of those who back the soldier, declaring on Tuesday that the IDF top brass and not “gang leaders” would determine how the IDF operates.
Ya’alon has faced a backlash for his comments and criticism against him took an extreme turn in recent days, when images of the defense minister in the cross-hairs began circulating on a WhatsApp group for Likud activists. The images, according to Haaretz, were accompanied by text declaring him “politically eliminated!” The text also reportedly said that since Ya’alon had criticized the soldier’s supporters, the Likud Central Committee would “assassinate” him in the party’s next internal elections.
In response, the soldier’s father condemned the “campaign of incitement” against the defense minister while urging Ya’alon to ensure a “fair trial” for his son.
“In the face of the campaign of incitement against you, I feel it is only right to stand by you and strongly condemn” the incitement, the father wrote in a letter to Ya’alon made public Sunday.
“I am saddened by the pronouncements and posters that have been circulating. This is a very serious matter, and my family and I are shocked at these expressions of incitement.”
At the same time, he added, “I turn to you and ask you to allow my son a fair [legal] process, without outside influence.”
“To our great dismay, you rushed to judge [the soldier] on the very day [of the incident], and even sharpened your tone and sentenced him in your Knesset speech, which hurt our entire family,” the father wrote.
The images of Ya’alon have drawn condemnation from across the political spectrum, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, also came to Ya’alon’s defense even as he reiterated his disagreement with the decision to prosecute the soldier.
“This is a man who has dedicated his life to the security of the state of Israel. Woe to those who incite against him!” Bennett said on Sunday.
The Jewish home leader said that “disagreement among brothers” is one thing, repeating that he felt it was wrong to try the soldier, but “disagreement based on hatred, on personal feelings, is dangerous and endangers all of us,” Bennett warned.
MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union) praised Ya’alon’s “dignified, leader-like, ethical and Zionist words.”
Ya’alon is “my political opponent, but he expresses precisely and clearly the foundational ethos that we all share, in our shared country, under our common blue sky,” she said.
President Reuven Rivlin called Ya’alon “one of the heroes of Israel” who carried out his duty to defend Israel “with honor.”
Rivlin lashed out at “certain streams that come along from time to time of people who think only they possess the truth,” and “turn you into an enemy when you criticize them.”
“They’ve stepped over the line in a very serious way, threatening not only our democracy, which we will succeed in defending, but our very society,” he added.
Ya’alon himself hit back Friday at “extremist, marginal elements” within his own Likud party unhappy with his support for the IDF top brass over the manslaughter charge against the soldier.
Expressing his resolve in a Facebook post on Friday, Ya’alon wrote in Hebrew: “After all kinds of extremist, marginal elements tried to depict me as an Israel hater, comes the next step (which should not surprise anyone), and that is the distribution of images that incite against me.”
But, vowed Ya’alon, such incitement would not deter him from what he called a “battle for Israel.”
“It won’t help them,” he wrote. “I have no intention of yielding in the battle for the image of the State of Israel and Israeli society. I will fight and I will continue to fight for a just, sane and moral State of Israel.”
He continued: “We must unequivocally safeguard a sane and progressive society, which sanctifies life, adheres to the rule of law and the supremacy of the law, and that fights violence and racism and the exclusion of the other simply because he is other.
“This is not a matter of right or left — this is our future and that of our children. This is the question of what kind of country we aspire to live in: a country that is part of the family of nations, Jewish and democratic, modern and tolerant, or a country that is descending into dangerous and destructive areas.”
The photos of Ya’alon in the cross-hairs have been submitted to the Shin Bet security service for investigation.