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IDF chief says military can only function in ‘Jewish, democratic state’

Remarks came as Halevi tried to walk back comments made while debating Israel’s judicial reforms

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks at a military ceremony for reservist troops at Tel Aviv University, Mar. 12, 2023. (Photo: Israel Defense Forces)

During a ceremony on Sunday night to honor reservists participating in Operation Break the Wave, the Israel Defense Forces year-long operation to target increasing Palestinian violence, IDF Chief of the General Staff Herzi Halevi attempted to walk back a controversial statement he made last week. 

While speaking with reservists opposed to Israel’s proposed judicial reforms, Halevi had made the comment, “A safe dictatorship is preferable to total anarchy.” 

At Sunday night’s ceremony, Halevi said, “I gave a moral answer to our duty to defend, to the fact that I will always be in this country, and I added a sentence that I should not have said and that does not completely reflect my worldview. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify my intentions.” 

Halevi quoted Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai to explain why he wished to retract his previous statement. 

“‘In this hot land, words should be a shadow’ wrote Yehudah Amichai, and in these complex times, so too should we use them,” Halevi said. “To consider them carefully, to be clear and unambiguous, to ensure that our words do not inflame further plots in Israeli society.” 

Halevi also addressed what he believed was wrong with his previous statement. 

“The IDF will not be able to act out of the disintegration of the people,” he said. “The IDF will not be able to operate without the volunteer spirit of the reservists and their willingness to maintain the IDF as the people’s army in a democratic Jewish state.” 

Halevi defended the reservists’ right to participate in protests and to speak their minds. 

“The reservists, as civilians, are entitled to express their opinions on any side and in any legal way,” he said. 

Halevi said he has met with hundreds of reserve commanders from all the different branches of the IDF, and has expressed his appreciation for their service and condemned comments made against them by certain politicians. 

Last week, Halevi said that calls for reservists not to serve were a “red line” and affirmed that reservists the backbone of the IDF. 

“We cannot accept refusal nor the appearance of refusal,” Halevi said. “The IDF cannot operate without the reservists and there are entire frameworks that are based on the reserve system.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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