Netanyahu vs. Yaalon: Tensions rise over army freedom of speech
JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon to order on Monday at a time of tensions over the right of military officers to speak their mind.
Yaalon on Sunday delivered a speech to senior officers in which he implored them to "continue speaking your minds".
"Do so even if your remarks aren't part of the mainstream, and even if they are at odds with ideas and stances held by the senior command or political echelon," Yaalon said.
His remarks were perceived as a public show of support for Major General Yair Golan, deputy head of the armed forces, who on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this month made remarks comparing contemporary Israeli society to Nazi Germany.
Yaalon had stood up for Golan, stressing that military commanders should not only "lead soldiers into battle" but also teach them "values, with a compass and conscience".
Netanyahu had criticised the deputy chief of staff's "outrageous" remarks as "utterly mistaken and unacceptable", adding however a few days later that "the affair is behind us".
Sources described by Israeli media as "close to Netanyahu" said following Yaalon's speech the premier was surprised his defence minister was raising the issue of Golan's speech again, and Netanyahu summoned Yaalon to a meeting on Monday.
A statement released by Netanyahu's office late Sunday reiterated that Golan's comparison was an "inappropriate remark" that harmed Israel internationally.
Following the Monday meeting, the offices of Netanyahu and Yaalon issued a joint statement saying the two had clarified issues.
"There is no dispute, nor was there ever one, that the army is subordinate to the political echelon, and officers are free to express their opinions in the relevant forums," the statement read.
The military establishment has been taking an active stance in publicly defining the parameters of morality amid a wave of Palestinian violence, at times to the chagrin or rightwing ministers and lawmakers.
The chief-of-staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, angered politicians in February with remarks warning young soldiers not to use excessive force in subduing suspected Palestinian assailants.
And the top brass, as well as Yaalon, strongly condemned Elor Azaria, a soldier standing trial in military court for shooting dead a prone and wounded Palestinian assailant, even before the trial began.