Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hit back Friday at “extremist, marginal elements” within his own Likud party unhappy with his support for the IDF top brass over the likely prosecution of a soldier who shot dead a disarmed Palestinian attacker in the West Bank last month.
The storm erupted over the March 24 shooting of a Palestinian attacker, who stabbed and wounded an IDF soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron. The accomplice of 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was killed during the attack, and al-Sharif was later shot dead by a soldier as he lay wounded and disarmed on the ground.
The soldier who shot al-Sharif is now detained on a military base and facing manslaughter charges. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot came under criticism for the decision to investigate the incident, and Ya’alon’s defense of the military leader and condemnation of the incident 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.
Criticism of Ya’alon 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.
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 and folding 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, that 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 images have drawn condemnation from across the political spectrum, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The photos have been passed to the Shin Bet security service for investigation. Israeli society views such images as a genuine cause for alarm, after doctored photos of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform and traditional Arab headdress were circulated in the days leading up to his assassination in 1995.