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The Israeli defense minister’s shameful retreat

Prominently on display in Yoav Gallant’s speech were two traits that make him unfit for his job: cowardice and betrayal.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Knesset, March 22, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Knesset, March 22, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

To borrow the favorite epithet of the demonstrators in the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities, “shame” on Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. In an announcement on Saturday night, the Cabinet member charged with the country’s most crucial portfolio called on the government to halt its judicial reform legislation and heal the rifts that have gone so far as to reach the military.

“I hear the voices from the field and I’m worried,” he said, while also urging the opposition to stop the protests to give negotiations a chance. Oh, and to “enable the nation to celebrate Passover and Independence Day together, and to mourn together on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

Prominently on display in this speech—which he had planned to deliver on Thursday evening, but refrained from doing so at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—were two traits that make him unfit for his job: cowardice and betrayal.

Let’s begin with the former. Faced with the phenomenon of mainly Air Force and Cyber Division reservists threatening and refusing to turn up for military exercises, on the grounds that they wouldn’t serve in a “dictatorship,” Gallant got frightened.

Rather than nipping the subordination in the bud, he met with the men and women in uniform to let them vent their concerns. The cream of the crop of the Israel Defense Forces said that without an end to the “coup d’état” (the protest movement’s misnomer for judicial reforms), the powers that be in Jerusalem can forget about confronting Iran. You know, since there won’t be any pilots or computer geniuses to carry out the operations.

Instead of demanding that the IDF chief of staff warn them that such blackmail will result in their ouster from the IDF, or at least in a stripping of their ranks, Gallant not only conveyed their complaints to Netanyahu; he began, apparently, to see the merits of their point of view.

In other words, he didn’t make it crystal clear that political positions have no place in the army. Nor did he hit home the very points about judicial reform on which he based his campaign in the Likud Party primary—the very ones that earned him a top spot on the Knesset candidates list and subsequently the ministry he coveted.

He was simply too intimidated by the unprecedented situation to know how to handle it. Such gutlessness hardly inspires confidence about his ability to deal with Tehran and its tentacles in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Authority.

Now for the latter attribute Gallant exhibited that makes him unsuitable: extreme disloyalty. Indeed, he took the opportunity of Netanyahu’s trip to London to undermine the arduous efforts of his party and coalition partners in one fell swoop.

That he pulled the stunt a mere 48 hours after the prime minister’s carefully crafted address aimed at calming tensions was particularly egregious. Netanyahu took pains to articulate the purpose of the reforms—to enhance, not harm, Israeli democracy—and assure that all civil and minority rights would be guaranteed in the law.

What the prime minister didn’t do was capitulate. When the opposition responded by stepping up its war, Gallant opted for retreat.

His move was not only dismissive of Netanyahu. It dealt a blow to all the soldiers who shun the mere suggestion of laying down their weapons in protest over policy.

Worse, it sent a disheartening message to the sector of the public that’s been under political, cultural and social assault for electing and continuing to support the Netanyahu-led government. “Shame” doesn’t begin to describe what Gallant should be feeling at the moment.

Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ” 

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