IDF chief in rare op-ed: Leave fallen troops, their families, out of politics

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Friday made a rare foray into Israeli politics, saying dragging fallen troops and their families into partisan debates was a “red line.”

The comments by Kohavi came days after supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protested and berated the family of a fallen soldier for hosting anti-Netanyahu protesters, leading to widespread outrage.

In a piece sent to media outlets titled “Don’t touch the bereaved,” Kohavi said some issues must remain out of the fray.

“The State of Israel is a lively and vibrant democracy. This a source of strength that is expressed in open public discourse, a plurality of opinions and independent thinking, which is important to preserve and encourage. However, there are topics that must be left outside any debate, foremost the fallen and bereaved families,” he said.

Israeli soldiers and police lay flowers and Israeli flags on the graves of fallen soldiers at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery on April 27, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

While not addressing any specific incident, Kohavi bemoaned criticism of bereaved families that makes a “direct connection to their difficult loss,” saying this turned soldiers killed in battle into a point of political contention.

“This is a moral and humane red line that must not be crossed,” Kohavi said. “The fallen and the bereaved families are part of the IDF… Every soldier who serves in the IDF or gave his life for the nation, the nation will maintain and protect his honor and family.”

The IDF chief said Israelis must honor these families “at every opportunity” and embrace them.

“We’ll argue, we’ll disagree with each other, we’ll express a variety of opinions, but we’ll guard the families. This is our duty to ourselves, so that we do not slide down a slope of social schism, and it is our duty [to the families] — a national, moral and humane duty,” he said.

Capt. Tom Farkash, killed in a helicopter crash in August 2006 (IAF)

During a protest Tuesday in Caesarea, right-wing activists lobbed insults at the Farkash family, whose late son Tom was an air force pilot killed in a helicopter crash during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

The protesters were angry that the family had reportedly hosted some of the demonstrators against Netanyahu in their home.

“There is a God and he punished her,” one member of a group of pro-Netanyahu protesters said of Tom Farkash’s mother. “I wish upon her another [lost child].”

“The fact that you lost a son does not give you the right,” another demonstrator shouted toward the home.

Farkash was born in Canada and had immigrated to Israel with his family at the age of eight.

“He is also bereaved,” one protester yelled toward the Farkash home, referring to Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni was killed while taking part in a hostage rescue operation in Entebbe in 1976.

The demonstration was condemned by Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Opposition chairman Yair Lapid.

Farkash’s mother, Anat, expressed outrage that the demonstrators would curse someone whose son had died defending the country.

The protester who had wished Anat lose another child, later apologized during a television interview.

Demonstrators outside the Caesarea home of the family of fallen IDF pilot Capt. Tom Farkash, November 17, 2020 (Screen grab)

Demonstrators have been holding regular protests against Netanyahu throughout the country, demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to a central protest in Jerusalem and satellite demonstrations around the country, demonstrators regularly rally outside the Netanyahu family’s private residence in Caesarea. The Farkash family had allowed anti-Netanyahu activists to demonstrate against the prime minister from the rooftop of their home, which is adjacent to his, Channel 12 reported.

After condemnations mounted on Wednesday, Netanyahu responded to the incident with a statement issued in the name of his Likud party.

He said he “forcefully condemns any comments relating to loss and bereavement… All his life Prime Minister Netanyahu has honored the sense of loss of bereaved families, and so must all, right or left.”

But he also complained that the protesters against him were staging their demonstrations less than 300 meters away from his Caesarea house, in contravention of a High Court decision.

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