Five former IDF chiefs gave their support to incumbent Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Saturday evening in the wake of the incitement against him following the conviction of Sgt. Elor Azaria.
Lt. Gen (res.) Benny Gantz, Lt. Gen (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, Lt. Gen (res.) Dan Halutz, Lt. Gen (res.) Moshe Ya'alon and Lt. Gen (res.) Shaul Mofaz came together at Yedioth Ahronoth's Rishon Lezion offices to express their firm and unequivocal support of the IDF, its chief Eisenkot, and the military judicial system.
The incitement against the IDF did not begin last week, but it did go up a notch when Azaria supporters protesting outside the Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv called out "Gadi, Gadi, beware. Rabin's looking for a friend," inciting to murder of the IDF chief and threatening the lives of the judges and prosecutor in the trial.
"We're allowing a small minority to take over and shout," says Lt. Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz. "We have to stop shouting and start thinking. How did we get to a situation in which Eisenkot or the judges need security against Jews? We have a strong, serious and firm IDF chief. I'm not worried about him, I'm worried about the country. The society needs to know which voices it chooses to listen to. Reality is complex and we have to deal with it. Leaders must create the discourse, not follow it."
In a letter Gantz sent to his successor Eisenkot over the weekend, he wrote: "You are the one who sets the norms, and you are the one who ensures they are followed, despite all difficulties and complexities. You're doing the right thing! It's important to emphasize and remember that while we defend ourselves, we must not lose our character as a society."
Gantz's predecessor, Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, described the current climate as "a dangerous crossing of a red line."
"I support the freedom of expression and opinion," Ashkenazi said, "and I can understand the disagreements on the Azaria trial and expressing solidarity with the family's pain. What I cannot understand or accept is attacks against the judicial system, the commanders of the IDF and the threats on the IDF chief. I call on everyone: Stop attacking the IDF and the chief of staff."
Lt. Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz criticized the Israeli political leadership, which he believes is not doing its job. "The government needs to be worried by a situation in which the military is the one responsible for protecting its values. That is the leadership's role. Only when there is a vacuum, it is filled. Fortunately, it is filled by commanders such as IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. Those who call to harm him should read his resume and see all he has done for the good of the people of Israel, including all of those calling for violence."
Lt. Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon, who was the defense minister when Azaria shot dead a neutralized terrorist in Hebron, said: "The IDF is the State of Israel's protective shield and the uniting element that brings together the most important elements of our existence here. We must not harm our own protective force and we must not allow those who put their own interests ahead of the good of the nation harm it."
Ya'alon harshly criticized public figures that have been attacking the IDF, saying "The IDF, with Eisenkot at its head, is a moral and determined army. That is why I was the first to defend it, to defend us. It was my duty as the defense minister and my way as a fighter and commander my entire life. At a time when cynical politicians target the IDF and its commander in a way that brings to this muddy atmosphere we've been seeing recently, Lt. Gen. Eisenkot deserves every praise and support."
Lt. Gen. (res.) Shaul Mofaz stressed the importance of the five former IDF chiefs coming together. "We came here to support the IDF chief, the army, and its values. Beyond the rules of engagement, (the Hebron shooting) raises the question of who are we, what are our values and how do we protect them. The decision of the court must be respected. Anyone who is seeking for immediate pardon (for Azaria) is trying to gain political capital. The politicians tainted the process and it's a shame such a circus was created from this incident."
Regarding those who incite against Eisenkot, Mofaz asserted that "We must bring to justice anyone who has threatened the IDF chief and the judges. This situation is unacceptable."
Lt. Gen (res.) Ehud Barak, who is currently abroad and could not attend the meeting, has lent his support nevertheless. "I am with the IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot and with you, whole-heartedly, from the other side of the world."
Demonstrations in support of Azaria continued on Saturday night when several dozens of protesters arrived at the President's Residence in Jerusalem and held an illegal rally. During that rally, they blocked the road and ignored repeat instructions from the police. Seven of the protesters were arrested for disturbing the peace.