From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Opposition Chairman MK Isaac Herzog, politicians across the political spectrum responded Saturday evening to a letter sent by reservists in the IDF's top electronic surveillance unit (8200) who said they would no longer spy on Palestinians living under occupation.
The letter and full interview with the group was first published by Ynet and its sister print publication Yedioth Aharonoth Thursday, and the signatories responded to critics Saturday evening, saying the unit's responsibilities harm innocent Palestinians and prevent the conflict's resolution.
- Palestinians hail 8200 protest letter: Proof some Israelis reject occupation
- IDF intelligence soldiers refuse to serve: We won't work against innocent Palestinians
- IDF awards intelligence unit for achievements
Netanyahu did not comment directly on the letter, but wrote on his Facebook page "The citizens of Israel owe you a great thank you (to 8200) for your professional and dedicated service to state of Israel. Keep up the good work!"
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon took a more direct stand, and said that the unit does "God's work" and claimed those calling on soldiers to refuse are aiding anti-Israeli forces around the world.
"I know Unit 8200 from my time as head of Military Intelligence and know the massive extent which their efforts play in Israel's security. They soldiers and officers there are doing God's work, night and day. 8200 preserves Israel's existence.
"The attempt to harm it and its work, through calls to refuse to report for duty, based on claims that are incongruent with the unit's ways and the values of its soldiers, is a base and distasteful attempt to aid the hateful and dishonest anti-legitimization campaign being led around the world against Israel and the IDF."
Ya'alon followed the prime minister in backing the unit, and said "the people of Unit 8200 are moral, ethical and dutifully fulfill their diverse missions. I wish to express my support of them and of their important work."
Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog also responded negatively to the letter, and said that refusing to serve and encouraging this type of behavior was damaging to Israel's international reputation and a threat to its citizens.
"There are other ways to bring one's claims to discussion. I also believe there are various ways to make a difference, certainly when there is a sense of injustice, but not through encouraging people to refuse to serve in the military - which will result in negative international publicity that we, the citizens of Israel, will be forced to deal with," Herzog said.
Coalition chairman, Likud MK Yariv Levin also slammed the signatories, saying "military services is a right, and whoever refuses to take part in guarding the country has crossed the border that divides the Israel democracy and the supporters of Palestinian terrorists who attack innocent Israelis indiscriminately."
The IDF spokesman's said in a statement Friday that Unit 8200 personnel were held to ethical standards "without rival in the intelligence community in Israel or the world", and had internal mechanisms for filing misconduct complaints.
That process had been circumvented by the letter-writers, the spokesman's office said: That they went first to the media "raises serious doubt as to the seriousness of their claims".
Amos Yadlin, a former chief of military intelligence under Netanyahu, played down the letter, saying 43 reservists were a "fringe percentage" of those available to Unit 8200.
"It's a big outfit, so naturally a few of its veterans may gravitate to the far left, as well as to the far right" said Yadlin, who now runs Tel Aviv University's INSS think-tank.
Reuters contributed to this report