Amid mass political upheaval this week, the Israeli prime minister’s government reshuffle has brought in the creme de la creme of Israel’s far-right and raised the hackles of those fearing an apparent rise in extremism among Israel’s political leadership.
Israel’s defense minister Moshe Yaalon on Thursday stepped down from Israeli politics after saying that as of late he increasingly found himself at odds, morally and professionally, with the PM, several ministers, and MKs.
Yaalon made the move after news broke that Netanyahu planned to newly appoint rightist Avigdor Lieberman — a Yisrael Beitenu MK with a long history of anti-Palestinian remarks and reportedly no military history — as defense minister.
Yaalon’s empty Knesset seat meanwhile will be filled by Yehuda Glick, a controversial US-born figure of the Likud party who is active in the Temple Institute, which promotes the destruction of the Dome of the Rock to make way for a Third Jewish Temple.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Souliman, who believes the PM carried out the recent government reshuffle solely to secure continuation of his rule, told Mondoweiss the move “revealed the real face of Netanyahu.”
“He [Lieberman] holds well-known political positions against negotiations with the Palestinians. He believes more in using military power,” Touma-Souliman said, citing Lieberman’s past pledge to remove Hamas from power in the Gaza Strip through force.
The Joint List MK also pointed to Lieberman’s advocacy to strip citizenship from Palestinian citizens of Israel, who in the past he referred to as Israel’s fifth column, the likes of whom should have their heads cut off — as well as his vow to enact a bill imposing the death penalty for “terrorists.”
“Netanyahu doesn’t seem to have any problem with these positions,” Touma-Souliman said, voicing concern over the potential implications of Lieberman’s use of power in the position of defense minister.
“I’m afraid Lieberman is going to take decisions that will make the lives of Palestinians even more horrible.”
Yaalon for his part marked his resignation with a clear message to members of Israel’s military to avoid coercion from government and justice figures.
The former defense minister butted heads with Netanyahu earlier this week when Yaalon urged commanders of Israel’s military to voice opinions publically, regardless if they contradicted official line.
Yaalon made the statement in a vouche of support of Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan who was lambasted by Netanyahu after apparently drawing comparison between current Israeli policy with that of pre-Nazi Germany.
Addressing youth in the Israeli military shortly after, Yaalon advised them to: “Navigate according to your moral compass and not in line with where the wind blows.”
“I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and also trickling into the IDF, hurting it already,” Yaalon said during his resignation.
“I fought with all my might against attempts to harm the Supreme Court and Israel’s justices, trends whose outcomes greatly harm the rule of law and could be disastrous for our country.”
Discussing the mass fallout between Yaalon and Netanyahu, a Likud source told Israeli daily Haaretz:
“In general, Israeli society is a healthy society, and the majority of it is sane and aims for a Jewish, democratic and liberal country,” the source said.
“But to my great sorrow, extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud Party and are shaking the foundations and threatening to hurt its residents,” the source added.
Yaalon’s concerns were echoed in a recent poll conducted by the non-partisan Washington-based Pew Research Center, which revealed that half of Israeli society agreed with the statement that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel,” and the majority believed the state’s Jewish citizens should be given preferential treatment.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the time called the poll a “wake up call for Israeli society.”
“The idea that the State of Israel could be democracy only for its Jewish citizens is unconscionable and we must find a way to address this,” the president said.
Touma-Souliman told Mondoweiss that while it is typical for Israeli society to shift to the right during times of unrest, the current shift in the Knesset was marked by exploitation by MK’s of violence since October for their own political gain.
Many in the Knesset have used recent violence to pass legislation which she believes creates an “environment that is hostile to democratic approaches to either the issue of occupation or its political resolution.”
“The question now is: what is the world going to do?” Touma-Souliman asked. “The world until today still believes what Netanyahu says about his willingness to talk to the Palestinians. To have Lieberman as defense minister…I think this is a very clear message Netanyahu is sending to the world over his goals for the future.”