JERUSALEM — Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai has had what can only be described as a Jerry Falwell moment.
On Tuesday, at a ceremony honoring Israel Defense Forces soldiers, Yishai declared that the Israeli army failed in the Second Lebanon War because soldiers were not sufficiently devout.
Comparing the war in 2006 to the Six Day War in 1967, Yishai, who represents the right-wing religious party Shas, said that in 1967 that “There were at least one hundred soldiers against every Jewish soldier, if not thousands, against every tank, hundreds of tanks; against every plane, hundreds of plane.”
According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the interior minister then claimed “the IDF achieved more in 1967 because the soldiers put their faith in God,” while in the 2006 conflict, “the IDF soldiers invested trust only in their own abilities.”
"In the Six Day War, every Jew, and every Jew that went to battle, raised their eyes to the creator," Yishai said.
"This is a great lesson," he continued. "When all Arab states are against the Jewish people, what will save the Jewish people is study of the Torah."
Outraged fellow politicians and family members of soldiers who died in the 2006 fighting swiftly brought Yishai to task.
Liora Hason, the mother of conscripted soldier Guy Hason, who lost his life in 2006, reminded the audience listening to her on Israel Army Radio that in 2006, Yishai was one of seven ministers in the inner cabinet who decided to extend the war, bringing on the deaths of almost half of all the Israeli fighters who were lost.
“He should go home,” she said. “Where is the prime minister? Why aren’t we hearing demands for his resignation? How can he dare to speak this way, when he was the one who made the decision for fighting to go on? Minister Yishai has the blood of my son on his hands,” she said.
“My son is — was, to my great regret — more of a Jew than many of the people Yishai calls his friends.”
By Wednesday Yishai had issued an apology, of sorts: "The bereaved families and the fallen soldiers are holy to the people of Israel," he said complaining that his remarks, which were recorded and have not been disputed, “were taken out of context.”
“The quotes attributed to me were taken with intentional bias, and are not correct. When people believe, it is clear to us that the victories in the wars of Israel are dependent on faith in the creator of the world.”