ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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PM, IDF chief pan settler leader who branded IDF Spokesperson’s Unit ‘extreme left’

After Likud aide shows some of unit’s soldiers criticizing ‘occupation’ on personal Twitter accounts, Yossi Dagan says it should be shut down, reopened anew; Lapid: ‘Ugly smears’

Incoming IDF Spokesperson Ran Kochav speaks during a ceremony at the IDF Spokesperson's Unit's headquarters in northern Tel Aviv on June 6, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Incoming IDF Spokesperson Ran Kochav speaks during a ceremony at the IDF Spokesperson's Unit's headquarters in northern Tel Aviv on June 6, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

A hardline settler leader accused the military’s chief spokesperson of turning his unit into a branch of the left-wing Meretz party, drawing rebukes from Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

The back-and-forth on social media began after an assistant to Likud MK Nir Barkat published photos of tweets from the personal accounts of several soldiers in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit that included criticism of “the occupation” and of expected incoming premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

One of the tweets included a picture of Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan kneeling behind a vehicle with his weapon drawn during an October shooting attack, with the caption: “This is why we must leave the territories,” referring to the West Bank.

“[IDF Spokesperson] Ran Kochav has turned the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit into an extreme leftist party. The unit needs to be closed and reopened anew,” Dagan said in a press release. “The situation in which soldiers in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit feel free to express views suitable to the extreme left proves that this is the spirit of the IDF spokesperson.”

Dagan also lamented the decision to punish a soldier who appeared to back incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir in a widely publicized recent incident.

That soldier had been filmed in Hebron accosting left-wing activists and boasting how Ben Gvir would restore order to the city, leading to a six-day sentence in military prison. In a second clip, the soldier was filmed repeatedly shoving a journalist while yelling, “I don’t like leftists. Leftists, I will tear you apart.”

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan at the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar on June 27, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Senior political and military leaders came to the defense of Kochav and his unit following Dagan’s statement.

“We offer full backing to IDF spokesman Ran Kochav in the face of the disgraceful attempt to drag him into political controversy,” Lapid said in a statement. “This is part of a dangerous attempt to threaten the IDF and subject it to narrow political interests. Anyone who holds the IDF dear to their heart should come out against this ugly smear campaign.”

“The attempts to drag the IDF, and in particular the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, into the political discourse are invalid and dangerous,” Gantz added.

In his own statement, IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi warned against “an ugly campaign that must stop immediately.”

He said the military “is an apolitical army of the people, operating… without bias or a political agenda.”

The IDF said in a separate statement Monday that the spokesperson’s unit soldiers who posted the political tweets would be disciplined.

Last month, the Haaretz daily reported that Ben Gvir’s longtime spokesman was granted a leave of absence from the IDF in order to work for Ben Gvir’s political campaign before being granted a position in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit upon return.

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