Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Thursday accused a vocal minority of Israelis of attacking their country’s “basic values,” adding that Israel’s “moral compass” had been lost, in his first public comments since it emerged that his position had been offered to Avigdor Liberman.
“Our moral compass for basic questions has been lost,” Ya’alon said during a meeting with the heads of Israel’s youth movements at the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters.
Ya’alon did not refer to Liberman or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by name, nor did he refer specifically to the bombshell decision to oust him from the Defense Ministry. However, the meaning of his speech was entirely clear.
The defense minister admitted that he wasn’t surprised by the recent turn of events or by the intense criticism he’s received from those, he said, who “in full volume attack our basic values.”
Ya’alon compared the recent turn of events to the sin of the Golden Calf, in which the biblical figure Aaron was pressured by the Israelites into building an idol.
“What is leadership? Going along with the worship of the Golden Calf?” he asked rhetorically. “There are a ton of incidents in history like that, so if I have to give a piece of golden advice, it’s don’t allow a Golden Calf.”
Quoting an Aramaic proverb, Ya’alon blamed the recent upheaval on a small portion of the population with a disproportionate amount of influence. “As they say, a small stone in an empty cask makes a lot of noise.”
Though in this case, he said, “the stone is already not so small.”
Ya’alon, who has repeatedly been criticized by more conservative politicians for his perceived liberal views, said it was important to be honest and upfront, regardless of the consequence.
“In the past there was a saying, ‘The truth will lead the way,’ and I very much believe in that, even if it seems as though you pay the price in the short term — that it’s not popular, not populist, that there are polls like this, polls like that,” Ya’alon said.
Quoting Shimon Peres, the defense minister told those gathered: “Our former president used to say, ‘Polls are like perfume, they smell good and evaporate quickly.’ Navigating based on a compass is still valid.”
In what may have been his last public comments before Liberman formally accepts the position, Ya’alon encouraged the young people present to “navigate based on a compass and not based on a weather vane.”
Those comments echoed Ya’alon’s speech to IDF generals on Sunday, in which he encouraged them to speak their minds, “regardless of whichever way the wind blows.”
That speech drew immediate rebuke from Netanyahu and other politicians who accused Ya’alon of politicizing the army, which the defense minister denied.
Apparently undeterred, Ya’alon encouraged the audience of educators to “give their youth” the tools to stand up for what’s right in the face of adversity.
Ya’alon is reportedly to be offered the post of foreign minister as Netanyahu moves to relieve him of his defense job. Netanyahu and Ya’alon are planning to meet Thursday to discuss the cabinet shuffle, according to the tabloid Israel Hayom, which is seen as closely linked to Netanyahu.
Ya’alon on Wednesday said he hadn’t been offered the Foreign Ministry post, currently held by Netanyahu, after reports emerged that he would have to make way for Liberman to take the defense spot.
Liberman and Netanyahu began talks in earnest Wednesday afternoon to bring the six-seat Yisrael Beytenu party in the Likud-led government, with reports quickly emerging that Netanyahu had acceded to Liberman’s demand for the defense portfolio. The talks had yet to conclude Thursday morning.
Liberman, meanwhile, met Thursday morning with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of Likud to seal the agreement that will see his party join the coalition.
Levin told the Haaretz daily that there were no major differences between the sides, and that, in fact, the conclusion of the talks was mostly a function of “how long it’ll take to put things in writing.”
Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.