Footage of a speech by Minister of Strategic Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon (Likud) which was released Wednesday night caused a stir when he called the foreign-sponsored Peace Now group a “virus,” warned that cultural elites are controlling Israeli discourse, and called on the government to allow Jews to settle throughout the land of Israel.
Yaalon, a former IDF Chief of Staff, was addressing a Sunday-night gathering of activists from Moshe Feiglin's Jewish Leadership faction of the Likud.
Video: Yaalon's speech in Hebrew
Yaalon's remarks contained heavy implied criticism of the current Israel-Palestinian Authority dialogue, which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has agreed to continue. When he served as IDF Chief of Staff, Yaalon related, he would tell his associates in confidence “that any time politicians bring out the dove of peace, the army has to clean up after them.”
He expressed skepticism over the official view of the Fatah-led PA as a viable peace partner. “Israeli papers say, 'Look at the Fatah conference, see how moderate they are.' How often can you fool us? These are the same mistakes from before,” he said.
Elites Control Public Discourse
Yaalon warned that public opinion in Israel has been taken over by a small group of elites. “The media is biased... Unfortunately, there are those, one could call them elites, who influence the Israeli public discourse in a warped, dishonest, manipulative and misleading manner,” he warned.
The “elites” are cause for concern, he continued. “I still worry. They have power. They can influence even the prime minister.”
The influence wielded by such elites is strong enough to threaten Israel's democracy, said Yaalon. “We're in a situation where there are centers of power with authority, but no responsibility. This is not democracy... The wealthy form one such center of power, the media is another, as is the Supreme Court.”
Yaalon named the foreign-sponsored leftist group Peace Now as another such “elite,” and termed it a “virus.”
Time for Real Disengagement
Yaalon criticized the Israeli Disengagement from Gaza in 2005, saying, “We wanted 'land for peace,' instead we got 'land for rockets.'”
However, he said, the solution today is to complete the disengagement process. “We took the Jews out of Gaza, but we did not disengage. I think we should disengage, the sooner the better. No electricity and water, no fruit, no vegetables, no cash.”
In contrast, Yaalon suggested earlier this week that Israel could reverse the "Disengagement" from northern Samaria by allowing Jews to return to towns such as Homesh.
The Feiglin connection
Yaalon's statements to Likud's Jewish Leadership faction were captured by one participant using the video feature on his cellular phone, and were later uploaded to the popular file-sharing site YouTube.
After Yaalon's speech, Feiglin reportedly told him, “G-d willing, we will be able to do great things together.”
Feiglin is a controversial figure within the Likud. While his presence in the party brought support from nationalist voters, his popularity has been viewed with increasing displeasure among party leaders, including Netanyahu, due to his hawkish positions.
Backlash from Left, Likud
Following the publication of the leaked footage of his speech, Yaalon faced backlash from within his own Likud party as well as from Peace Now. Likud politicians gave anonymous interviews accusing Yaalon of “running to the extreme right” in an attempt to garner support.
Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer accused Yaalon of making Peace Now “a target” for hate from the nationalist camp. Defense Minister Ehud Barak came to the group's defense, calling Peace Now “an important part of the peace camp.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remarked Wednesday night that Yaalon’s calling Peace Now activists “a virus” is “unacceptable, not in their content and not in their style, and they do not represent the government’s position.”
Netanyahu requested that Yaalon personally meet with him. The Prime Minister’s Office stated, “Against the pluralism of Israeli public opinion, the Prime Minister believes that mutual respect and unity of the nation must be preserved. This is correct for all times, especially for this time.” Nonetheless, Yaalon doesn't express remorse for his statements.