Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday castigated outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid for “attempting to incite rebellion among military officers and local authorities against the elected government.”
His comments came after Lapid urged local authority leaders not to cooperate with an extremist far-right member of the incoming government on educational issues, and after he was reported to warn a military general earlier this week against allowing the far-right “to gain control over the military.”
“Lapid’s conduct is dangerous and hurts democracy,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We must leave the IDF out of any political debate. Senior officers certainly must not be incited to rebellion against a government that was elected by the people. It crosses a red line.”
He added that when Likud was in the opposition “we never incited against the government.”
Netanyahu vowed to protect citizens’ rights and to “lead the Israeli government according to the national and democratic values that have guided me my entire life.”
He urged Lapid and the expected opposition “to act in a responsible manner. We have one country, one military and one nation. We must not hurt them.”
Lapid responded with an angry diatribe, laying out all the ways he believes Netanyahu has undermined Israeli democracy.
“Mr. Netanyahu, I won’t take lessons in democracy from you. Not from someone who runs a foreign-funded poison machine that deals in slander and defamation of the lowest kind. Not from one who stood on the steps of the courthouse and incited against the rule of law. Not from the one who currently appointed a person convicted of supporting terror to be minister of internal security and a serial convicted felon to the Minister of the Interior,” Lapid said. (Lapid was referring to the expected incoming minister of national security Itamar Ben Gvir and incoming interior minister Aryeh Deri, respectively.)
“Not from someone who broke every promise he ever made and even his partners admit he is a serial liar,” Lapid added. “There was not a single moment in the last year and a half that you respected democracy.”
“We will fight in every arena and in every legal way to keep Israel Jewish, democratic and liberal,” Lapid vowed.
Netanyahu’s accusations came, according to a Friday report in Haaretz, after Lapid made the aforementioned comments to a top army officer during a military drill this week.
The report, which did not cite sources, said the officer recounted to Lapid a meeting of the IDF General Staff a day earlier, in which senior military officials expressed frustration over the “lack of support from ministers in the incoming government.”
It was an apparent reference to the right-wing fracas over a decision to punish a soldier who taunted left-wing activists in Hebron about the incoming right-wing government.
The atmosphere at the military meeting was described as “morose” as officials worried about the insertion of politics into military matters.
“This isn’t coincidental and it won’t stop,” Lapid reportedly told the unidentified general. “The far-right in every country in the world always strives to gain control over the military. It does so by sparking disputes between soldiers and their commanders, giving soldiers the feeling that they can do whatever they want because they will always have the support of the political echelon,” he added.
“What started with Elor Azaria will now become a policy,” Lapid argued, referring to the former Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter for killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in 2016.
“But that means chaos, you can’t lead an army like that,” the general responded, according to the report.
“Yes,” Lapid reportedly responded, “that’s exactly what they want.”
This week saw intense right-wing criticism of the military’s decision to punish a soldier who was filmed taunting activists in Hebron. The decision was loudly protested by far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, the prospective incoming police minister, who the soldier had lauded in his rant as the man who “will bring order here.”
The commander who sentenced the soldier to 10 days in prison has been shamed on social media and reportedly received threats.
Lapid has been open about his concerns regarding the next government, which will feature far-right and ultra-religious figures in prominent positions.
In a new missive to heads of local councils, outgoing Lapid said that “the new government being formed in Israel has forsaken our children’s education and handed it over to the most extreme and backward figures in Israeli society.”
Netanyahu this week agreed to give MK Avi Maoz, the sole lawmaker in the fringe Noam party, an annual budget of at least NIS 100 million ($29 million), as well as over a dozen staffers, as a deputy minister at the helm of a new “national Jewish identity” government agency within the Prime Minister’s Office.
According to the agreement, the Education Ministry unit responsible for external teaching and partnerships will be placed under Maoz’s control, giving him authority over non-official bodies enlisted to teach or lecture at schools.
Lapid urged local authorities to oppose extremist content pushed by Maoz.
“The solemn responsibility for the educational content our children will study in schools now passes to you,” he said. “You must now serve as the gatekeepers.”
Several local authorities have said they will not allow Maoz to dictate their educational curricula.