Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett found himself at the center of a political storm on Friday after saying in an interview that he would refuse to carry out a military order to evacuate Jews from their homes. Bennett made the remark on Thursday on the "Mishal Ham" TV program hosted by journalist Nissim Mishal.
"If I received an order to evacuate a Jew from his home, my conscience would not permit me to do so and I would ask my commanding officer to excuse me," Bennett said.
The chairman, of what recent polls are hailing as the third-largest party, explained that he "wouldn't publicly call on soldiers to violate their orders," but would be willing himself to spend time in prison if he were given such an order. "I am not capable of entering a Jew's home and ordering him to leave. But I also wouldn't evacuate an Arab from his home," he said.
Bennett said he would work to thwart any government plan to uproot settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The remark elicited a wave of responses from across the political spectrum, with Vice Prime Minister and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon saying that "I am appalled that Naftali Bennett called on soldiers to refuse an order. Israel's existence is based on the IDF and the IDF's existence is based on following orders. He who calls on others to refuse an order is irresponsible and harms the basic values of our Jewish country."
Likud minister Gilad Erdan also leveled accusations at Bennet, saying that "this statement, first and foremost, undermines the IDF because the military is dependent on following orders. But, as someone who opposes the evacuation of communities, I also think that this remark undermines Israel's right wing. Because if we can support and justify conscientious refusal of orders, what can we possibly say to [Meretz Chairwoman] Zahava Gal-On and Merav Michaeli and their friends in the Left when they refuse to send their children to fight in Judea and Samaria?"
MK Eitan Cabel, head of the Labor party's response team, said "This was an unfortunate and unacceptable remark. Refusing an order is tantamount to crossing a red line. It damages our ability to operate as a society. The remark was severe and absolutely illegitimate."
A statement by the Kadima party headed by Shaul Mofaz said "Bennett has revealed his true self."
Bennett, who served as an officer in the elite Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit), said "I served for 22 years, so far, in the military and have led soldiers into wars and operations. No one can teach me what I will or will not do. Part of being a soldier is refusing an order on the basis of one's conscience. I have taught soldiers that an order that is not morally reasonable should not be heeded. To evacuate people from this land is a terrible act."
Immediately after the interview ended, Bennett uploaded a message on his Facebook page saying "As one who has led soldiers on many occasions in operations and on the battlefield I oppose with my entire soul and heart the act of refusing an order. All the orders I received over 22 years of service in the Israel Defense Forces I have carried out and will continue to do so."