Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s announcement Friday that he was resigning from the Knesset and government drew an avalanche of responses from politicians on all sides of Israeli politics.
Ya’alon was considered one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key allies in the ruling Likud party. But in his resignation announcement Friday, he cited “my lack of faith” in Netanyahu as the reason for his “break from political life.”
The resignation comes amid a dramatic coalition shake-up in which his post is set to be handed to Yisrael Beytenu leader Member of Knesset Avigdor Liberman in a bid to bring Liberman into Netanyahu’s razor-thin 61-seat coalition. Talks with Liberman have been continuing in recent days, but the deal has not been finalized.
Ya’alon’s parting shot at Netanyahu set the political system atwitter — including on Twitter — with condemnations of both Netanyahu and the outgoing defense minister, praise for Ya’alon’s “values,” including from Netanyahu allies, and speculation over the future of the current government.
“The decision of Ya’alon to resign from his job shows the scale of the crisis and the gap between him and Netanyahu,” one official close to Ya’alon told the Walla news site.
The decision, which brings Likud’s next-in-line — the Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick — into the Knesset, caught many by surprise.
“We thought he would stay in the government and continue contributing, but it appears the tension between them was too great,” said the defense official.
Netanyahu’s opponents on the left celebrated Ya’alon’s decision, saying it showed the current government was irresponsible and dangerous.
Ya’alon “is a brave man, who exposed the moral nakedness of Netanyahu to the whole world,” said Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit.
Margalit added that the replacement of Ya’alon with Glick was “a fitting change for this government of hilltop youth,” a reference to extremist settler activists.
The Zionist Union’s No. 2, MK Tzipi Livni, herself a former Likud minister, said she “disagreed with Defense Minister Ya’alon’s political views, but I respected and respect his ethical positions. The problem is that ethics are not part of this government’s platform.”
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah called Ya’alon a “decent man who did the decent thing: He refused to be another clown in the Netanyahu circus, and left him in disgust.”
Ya’alon may have earned as much praise on the right as on the left.
The Jewish Home party, a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, praised Ya’alon’s move.
In a statement, the party called Ya’alon “an ethical man who went with his conscience in a decision that brings honor back into Israeli politics. We thank him for his contributions to the State of Israel throughout his life, and are certain he will return to public service.”
Several cabinet ministers lamented the loss. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) called on him to retract his resignation.
Likud lawmakers were less glowing in their assessments of the startling move Friday, though some defended the outgoing minister.
“When you become a candidate for the Likud Knesset list, you take on a commitment to the party and its path, not to a particular job,” Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin said.
“You don’t come into political life to say, ‘I’ll be defense minister — or I’m leaving,'” said Elkin, a key negotiator who helped bring about Yisrael Beytenu’s joining the coalition.
To boot, Elkin is the second Likud minister to have lost his job due to the move. Liberman’s party won not only the Defense Ministry, but also Elkin’s Absorption Ministry in the deal.
“What guided me during [the coalition talks] wasn’t getting one job or another, but what is best for the State of Israel, for the Likud, for the nationalist camp,” Elkin commented.
Likud’s coalition chairman MK David Bitan, hardly on the job for one week, called Ya’alon’s resignation “hasty.
“He was slated to be the foreign minister, and could have brought his immense abilities and contributed to the State of Israel from the Foreign Ministry,” Bitan said. “The expansion of the coalition [through the deal with Liberman] was a national interest, and demanded that everyone rise above their personal calculations. I hope Ya’alon reconsiders.”
But Likud’s Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel seemed to blame Netanyahu for the resignation. “I have no doubt that if Ya’alon was treated differently, and not with contempt, we would have been spared his resignation today,” she said.
“Ya’alon’s resignation is a great loss to the nationalist camp, generally, and the Likud party, specifically. For decades, since his days as an officer, as commander of Sayeret Matkal [the elite commando force] and later as chief of staff, Ya’alon gave much to the country, and all of us, without exception, owe him a great deal,” added Gamliel.
Jewish Home’s MK Bezalel Smotrich blamed unnamed “advisers” for toppling Ya’alon.
“Ya’alon is a beloved and accomplished man whose advisers pushed him recently into corners of arrogance and hubris that brought about the end of his public career,” Smotrich said in a tweet. “It’s a shame, and welcome and good luck to Yehudah Glick.”
Ya’alon was scheduled to give a press briefing at noon Friday at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv’s Kirya compound.