Moshe Ya’alon – An Israeli Hero

Ya’alon’s resignation statement says it all. YnetNews of May 20 states, “I found myself in difficult political arguments with the prime minister over core values.” “Regrettably, there are senior politicians in our country who have chosen to incite and split up sections of Israeli society from one another, instead of unifying and connecting them. I find it unacceptable that we be divided due to cynicism and a lust for power, and I have repeatedly voiced my opinion on the matter out of honest concern for the future of both the current generation in Israel and the ones that will follow.

“Those who lead us must do so based on ethics, an inner compass and at times against an opposing gale-force wind. They should work to outline a path, and not get blown off course for electoral reasons or in light of public surveys, nor should they conduct or agree to any reckless and irresponsible discourse.” He continued, “Fundamentalist influences have taken over Likud. This is not the same Likud that I joined. A spirit of fracturing is ruling the movement.

How is it that a Likud stalwart Moshe Ya’alon — the Minister of Defense and former Chief of Staff of the IDF – condemns the Likud and the core values of PM Netanyahu?

In our newsletter distributed on April 13 titled ‘Purity of Arms’ we wrote, ‘The Israeli military doctrine ‘Purity of Arms” is just one short paragraph in the IDF Code of Ethics but it plays an outsize role in the training of soldiers in the IDF. When my son served in the IDF (tanks), four or five hours of his training were devoted to understanding the implications of this doctrine. It reads: ‘Purity of Arms – The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are non-combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.’

Moshe Ya’alon takes those values very seriously. So seriously, that he stepped down as Defense Minister and resigned as an MK when members of the coalition attacked this doctrine. Although the incidents discussed in this newsletter bring him into conflict with the far right in Israeli politics, Ya’alon has not been hesitant to attack icons of the left such as the group ‘Breaking the Silence’. which he describes as treacherous.

The first bone of contention was Moshe Ya’alon’s condemnation of those right wing extremists who criticized the IDF for indicting a soldier who shot and killed a Palestinian terrorist who was unarmed and helpless. This killing was a horrible violation of ‘Purity of Arms’. For more on this subject, reread our newsletter titled ‘Purity of Arms’.

The next flashpoint was a speech by Major General Yair Golan. The Times of Israel of May 5 reports, ‘In a speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan said that he identifies processes in Israel today that are similar to those that took place in Europe prior to the Holocaust.

In a strongly worded speech uncommon for a military commander, Golan warned against trends of growing callousness and indifference towards those outside of mainstream Israeli society. He called for a “thorough consideration” of how society treats the disadvantaged and “the other” in its midst.

The Holocaust, he said, must bring Israelis to “a deep reflection” of the character of man but of their character as well. “It should bring us to deeply consider the responsibility of leadership, and the quality of a society.

“If there is something that frightens me in the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that occurred in Europe…70, 80 and 90 years ago and finding evidence of their existence here in our midst, today, in 2016,” Golan said.

“There is nothing easier than hating the other,” he said. “There is nothing easier than raising fears and sowing terror. There is nothing easier than becoming callous, morally corrupt and hypocritical.” He called for society to make use of Holocaust remembrance to “nip the buds of intolerance, the buds of violence, the buds of self-destruction on the road to moral degradation.”

PM Netanyahu reacted, ‘A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday said Netanyahu gives “full backing” to the IDF, but reiterated that Golan’s comments were “inappropriate. “IDF officers express their opinions freely, in the relevant forums and on the issues that are under their jurisdiction,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office said. “The IDF is the people’s army and must remain out of political debates.” The prime minister “firmly believes that the comparison to Nazi Germany was an inappropriate statement, made at an inappropriate time, and caused Israel damage in the international arena,”’

After PM Netanyahu criticism, Moshe Ya’alon fully backed General Golan and encouraged other IDF leaders ‘to keep speaking out against the “extremist minority” who, he said, were working to undermine the values of Israel’s military.’ ”Turning to the IDF’s top generals, he {Ya’alon} instructed them: “Do not fear, do not hesitate, do not be deterred. Be courageous not only on the battlefield, but also in the briefing room. A good army is an army whose officers, junior and senior alike, feel safe in their ability to speak their minds at all times with the knowledge that they won’t be hurt,” he continued. “This is my demand of you, senior IDF officers, and this ought to be your demand of your subordinates: Keep acting in accordance with your humane conscience and moral compass, and not according to which way the winds are blowing,”’

Personally, I am bothered by most Holocaust references as they trivialize the Holocaust. Going beyond the Holocaust reference, General Golan’s sentiments of sensitivity to the ‘other’ and opposing hatred and condemning those who use fear to divide society are very appropriate subjects for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The deeper question is what are the bounds of public speech for a high ranking military figure? The classic case is the conflict between President Truman and General MacArthur that ended with Truman’s firing of MacArthur. records, ‘In October 1950, MacArthur met with Truman and assured him that the chances of a Chinese intervention were slim. Then, in November and December 1950, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed into North Korea and flung themselves against the American lines, driving the U.S. troops back into South Korea. MacArthur then asked for permission to bomb communist China and use Nationalist Chinese forces from Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China. Truman flatly refused these requests and a very public argument began to develop between the two men.’ It was the public objection to the policy decision by the Commander in Chief, President Truman, that the US would restrict its intervention in Korea (limited warfare) that led to the firing of MacArthur.

It would be embarrassing for any Israeli politician to argue that General Golan opposes the government’s policies. That would put the politician in the awkward position of admitting to favoring divisions, and exploiting hatred in Israeli society; of favoring callousness, moral corruption and hypocrisy. Although there are politicians whose actions suggest that they favor such behavior, none would be honest enough to admit it.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.