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Breaking silence, Netanyahu defends IDF general attacked by coalition MKs

After staying silent on the matter for a day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday came to the defense of the military’s top commander in the West Bank, after he was accused by a pair of coalition lawmakers of caring more for the welfare of Palestinians than Israelis.

“The denigration of Maj. Gen. [Yehuda] Fox is unacceptable and unworthy,” the premier said. “Fox is an excellent and admired officer who works tirelessly to defend all the citizens of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s statement did not name either MK Avichay Buaron of his ruling Likud party, who first hit out at Fox during a radio interview Tuesday, or far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, who later echoed those claims and also called for Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to be replaced.

In an interview with Kan news, Buaron charged that for Fox, “allowing movement rights for Palestinians is more important than hermetically protecting Israelis,” sparking backlash from the military and from Gallant, with both putting out statements backing the top officer.

Buaron later doubled down on his comments, which were also denounced by opposition lawmakers, saying that even IDF major generals can be criticized: “I am sorry that Fox and others interpret substantive criticism as a personal attack, even when the criticism is said with respect.”

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On Wednesday, he claimed in an interview with Army Radio that “since [Fox] entered the role in 2021, the terror attacks have doubled. He brought with him an attitude of tolerance to the Palestinian population.”

Buaron decried those efforts to improve the welfare of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Likud MK Avichay Buaron speaks at a press conference near the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 12, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“[Fox] consistently ensures the welfare of Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria, and [is] against Jewish residents,” she told Kol BaRama radio, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Taking aim at Gallant, Son Har-Melech declared that “the time has come for a defense minister that cares for the right.

“He knowingly endangers the lives of Judea and Samaria residents,” she claimed. “I would prefer a different defense minister who will care for the settlers.”

Gallant, also of Likud, has clashed with hard-right members of the coalition over what they view as exaggerated efforts to combat settler violence.

In this handout photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) visit an IDF Central Command base, August 1, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In May, settler activists put out banners with Fox’s picture along Route 60 — the West Bank’s main north-south highway — that read: “The harassment of the settlement [enterprise] continues — six evictions within a week.” They were criticizing the general for authorizing the demolition of illegally built structures.

Heads of the IDF’s Central Command have repeatedly come under fire by some settler groups over the years for what they felt was insufficient action against security threats or egregious action against illegal Jewish settlements.

Fox, who is in charge of troops in the West Bank, called an unprecedented deadly settler rampage in the West Bank town of Huwara earlier this year a “pogrom.”