Israeli defence minister resigns over ‘extremist elements’

Moshe Ya’alon quits role and parliament after news that Lieberman will replace him

Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon announces his resignation during a press conference in Tel Aviv on Friday. “To my great regret, I have found myself lately in deep disagreement over professional and ethical issues with the prime minister,” he said. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon announces his resignation during a press conference in Tel Aviv on Friday. “To my great regret, I have found myself lately in deep disagreement over professional and ethical issues with the prime minister,” he said. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

 

A day after being informed that he will be replaced as defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon has resigned and quit the Knesset parliament, warning that Israel has been taken over by “dangerous and extremist elements”.

Widely respected as a conscientious and responsible defence minister and a moderate in prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, Mr Ya’alon was informed by Mr Netanyahu that he was being replaced by Avigdor Lieberman, under a deal to bring Mr Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party into the government.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Mr Ya’alon announced he was taking a time-out from politics because he had lost faith in Mr Netanyahu, but plans to return to public life in the future.

“Unfortunately, both Israel and Likud have been taken over by dangerous extremists, undercutting our home and threatening those in it. This is not the Likud party I joined, and the vast majority of Likud voters – the sane and responsible public – would be wise to understand the depths of the crisis and the violent spirit that has overtaken the movement.”

He noted that he worked harmoniously with Mr Netanyahu for a long time, including during the Gaza war.

“But to my great regret, I have found myself lately in deep disagreement over professional and ethical issues with the prime minister. I have fought with all my strength against radicalisation, violence and racism in Israeli society, which percolates also into the Israel Defence Forces.”

Mr Ya’alon recently angered Mr Netanyahu when he called for a soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian man after an alleged stabbing incident to be brought to justice and when he defended a senior general who compared recent trends in Israel to pre-war Germany.

Responding to the resignation, Mr Netanyahu expressed regret that Mr Ya’alon turned down his offer to become foreign minister.

“The change in portfolios did not stem from a crisis of faith between us, it stemmed from the need to expand the coalition in order to bring stability to Israel,” he said, rejecting the allegation that Likud had been taken over by extremists.

“The Likud believes in democracy. The Likud is a liberal nationalist movement that is obligated to preserving Israel as Jewish and democratic state and represents the main strain of thought among the people.”

Mr Ya’alon will be replaced in the Knesset by American-born Yehuda Glick, one of the leaders of the campaign for Jews to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and to re-build the Jewish temple on the site, which is also sacred to Muslims as the Haram el-Sharif.

Mr Glick narrowly survived an assassination attempt in 2014 after being shot and seriously wounded by a Palestinian gunman.