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IDF troops in uniform harass demonstrators outside PM’s residence

Military condemns soldiers from the religious Netzah Yehuda battalion who shouted tongue-in-cheek song in support of Netanyahu at protesters, calls it a ‘serious incident’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Soldiers from the IDF's religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion chant right-wing slogans at protesters outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on September 15, 2020. (Screen capture: Kikar Hashabbat)
Soldiers from the IDF's religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion chant right-wing slogans at protesters outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on September 15, 2020. (Screen capture: Kikar Hashabbat)

Uniformed soldiers shouted slogans supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at demonstrators outside the premier’s residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday, in what the military called a “serious” violation of its policies against political expression.

“This was a serious incident that does not conform to IDF orders. The event will be investigated, lessons will be learned, and actions will be taken accordingly,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

In video from the scene, filmed by the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hashabbat news site, the troops can be seen yelling the traditional Jewish song “David, King of Israel” while others sang a tongue-in-cheek riff off the tune, “Bibi, King of Israel,” in which the Biblical monarch’s name is replaced with Netanyahu’s nickname, at a protest tent outside the prime minister’s home.

The soldiers were fresh recruits in the Kfir Brigade’s religious Netzah Yehuda battalion, a unit that has often seen allegations of far-right behavior, including abusing Palestinian suspects, fighting with Bedouin Israelis, and attacking border guards.

On Tuesday, a platoon from the unit visited the capital as part of an educational outing and walked down Azza Street, where demonstrators have set up a round-the-clock vigil in protest of Netanyahu.

As the soldiers walked past the protesters’ tent, some of them could be heard yelling “Bibi, King of Israel” and other songs affiliated with Israel’s political right-wing, as well as clapping and whistling. The soldiers could clearly be seen directing their chants toward the protesters.In its statement, the military denounced their actions, stressing the importance of the IDF remaining apolitical.

“The IDF is an apolitical people’s army, in which all activities related to partisan issues are forbidden,” the military said.

The IDF quoted army chief Aviv Kohavi who stressed the value of nonpartisanship in a recent speech, saying that it was the military’s job to “grow [this ethic] and to defend it constantly and systematically.”

“The IDF remains above all disagreements, its commanders and soldiers do not take political stances and do not express viewpoints on controversial social issues,” Kohavi said.

The Netzah Yehuda battalion was created in 1999 so that ultra-Orthodox and other religious soldiers could serve without feeling they are compromising their beliefs. The soldiers do not interact with female troops to the same extent as other servicemen and are given additional time for prayer and religious study.

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