The IDF’s Self-Inflicted Wound

By Evelyn Gordon, COMMENTARY

The massive support in Israel for soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter on Wednesday for killing a wounded Palestinian terrorist, has confounded some of its friends and supplied ammunition for its enemies. So it’s important to understand why that support is so widespread. Jonathan Tobin correctly explained some of the reasons yesterday, including the fact that most Israelis have limited sympathy for terrorists. But to a large extent, this is also a self-inflicted wound by the two people at the top of the military chain of command, who forgot the most basic principle of justice: Not only must it be done, but it must be seen to be done. By their own actions, they managed to create an appearance of injustice in a case where I believe none actually occurred.

The shooting occurred at about 8:30 A.M. on March 24. Five hours later, B’Tselem released videotaped footage of it. By that evening–at a time when the Military Police investigation had barely begun, and long before the video could have been examined to ensure it hadn’t been doctored–both then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot had already unequivocally condemned Azaria’s behavior. Ya’alon said it “completely contradicts” IDF values, while an IDF spokesman termed it a “grave breach” of IDF standards. Such condemnations continued in the coming days. On March 28, for instance, three weeks before the military prosecution decided to file charges, Ya’alon told the Knesset that Azaria was “a soldier who has transgressed, and not a hero.” In other words, both Ya’alon and the army had declared Azaria guilty even before he was charged.

In conversations with friends shortly after the incident, it was this that most infuriated them and aroused their sympathy for Azaria: They felt that the men in charge of the army, whose job was to ensure that any soldier suspected of wrongdoing receives a fair hearing, had instead rushed to judgment against him in order to appease a hostile world after B’Tselem made its video public. Moreover, they wondered whether Azaria could even receive a fair trial when the two men who must sign off on promotions for every senior military police officer, prosecutor and judge had already made it clear that they expected a conviction. Under those circumstances, would military justice officials risk their careers by exonerating Azaria if the evidence justified it?

To be clear, based on the evidence that later emerged in court, I think Eisenkot and Ya’alon had good reason to believe Azaria had “transgressed” even when they first spoke out. The officer at the scene had reported the incident to his superiors as a possible crime within minutes of its occurrence, and this report, including damning testimony from other soldiers at the scene, had moved swiftly up the chain of command, leading army officials to decide a criminal investigation was warranted even before B’Tselem published its video.

But by immediately and publicly condemning Azaria – instead of saying, as the army usually does, that his conduct must be deemed unacceptable if proven, but meanwhile, the case is under investigation and the military justice system should be allowed to work without interference–they created an appearance that the deck had been stacked against the soldier. And since most Israelis weren’t following the minutia of the court hearings, that initial impression is what remained: In response to a video released by an irredeemably hostile organization, and whose authenticity had yet to be proven, the two men who headed the army had declared Azaria guilty even before the investigation began.

This impression was reinforced over the ensuing months by the fact that Eisenkot, in particular, refused to stop talking about the case, while demonstrating shocking insensitivity to the way his comments would sound to most Israelis. The very day before the verdict was issued, for instance, he said, “An 18-year-old man serving in the army is not ‘everyone’s child’ … He is a fighter, a soldier, who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him.”

Obviously, the second part of that statement is true; the army can’t function if its 18-year-old draftees aren’t treated as soldiers and fighters. But to parents, their child is always “their child,” even after he turns 18 and dons a uniform. And because in Israel, most young men do army service, most parents can imagine their own son in any other soldier’s place. In that sense, Azaria is “everyone’s child,” just as kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit was “everyone’s child.” Israelis therefore overwhelmingly supported freeing 1,027 terrorists to secure his freedom. Israeli parents entrust the army with their most precious possession–their children–and in return, they expect the army to take the best possible care of them that’s consistent with carrying out its military functions.

Thus, when Eisenkot dismissively declared that a soldier isn’t “everyone’s child,” what Israeli parents heard was a refusal to acknowledge that his soldiers are indeed also their children, whose protection must be high on his priority list. And that merely reinforced the impression left by his initial hasty condemnations: In responding to the case, he had given insufficient weight to his responsibility toward his soldiers.

Based on the evidence, I see no reason to think Azaria was in fact convicted unjustly. But from the start, Eisenkot and Ya’alon created the appearance of injustice by routinely speaking out against Azaria when they should simply have kept silent and let the military justice system do its work. The result is that now, many Israelis still aren’t certain Azaria was convicted fairly, and that has translated into overwhelming support for an early pardon.

This case has sowed devastating distrust of both the army’s leadership and its justice system among a large section of the Israeli public. Yet much of that distrust could have been avoided had Ya’alon and Eisenkot simply kept their mouths shut. That neither man proved capable of doing so is a damning indictment of them, and a tragedy for Israel.

Originally published in Commentary on January 5, 2017

January 6, 2017 | 8 Comments »

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8 Comments / 8 Comments

  1. @ JoeBillScott:

    Yes there’s a definitely and a true practical solution to the terrors indeed! And that is the international community’s unending efforts to create two states to uproot the terrorism. By way of deception most of Zionists have turned the word “terrorist” as an Arab but ask the Arabs and rest of the world who in reality is terrorizing the masses across the borders of Israel? Clarly not the Arabs but the only super power in the Middle East and Afarica.. Israel! So face the truth when you look in the mirror and look right through your bigoted face what is reality and what is hate!

  2. It all started with the top brass from the IDF playing politics. They should remain confined to their barracks!
    Acting terrorists must be killed first then ask questions. These are killers, not soldiers neither civilians!!!

  3. @ Russell:
    In fact, I’d like to know Dershowitz’s opinion. Contrary to myth, he didn’t prove O.J. Simpson’s innocence. He proved that the integrity of the evidence had been compromised when he revealed that the bloody glove the defendant was supposed to have worn was three sizes too small! Do they have an appeals process?

    Oh. Right. Look who’s guarding the hen house. I could see how this sort of thing might make Jews who are able to decide to come here rather than make Aliya. I mean now that Clinton isn’t going to get to complete Obama’s plan to flood us with Jew-hating moslem migrants.

    If you’ll forgive a NYC traffic analogy. I remember from when I was driving a yellow cab at one point, on 34th street in Manhattan, (there are a few like that) there was no turning left or right between Tenth Avenue and Madison. Except where a traffic officer tells you otherwise. That’s the rule. So, I met a driver who had to give up a day’s work and pay the lawyer $250 win or lose, to go to court to challenge a ticket which had been given him by an officer on the avenue he had turned onto, after the officer on the street he had been turning from told him to turn. Incidentally, It’s funny how cab drivers are looked down on. You have to show more id, and prove that you are not only law-abiding but ethical and moral in more ways than for any other form of ID you could apply for that I can think of. I’ve never applied to the FBI or CIA, so I don’t know what that entails. You not only have to pay to be finger-printed and investigated in a federal crime data base to ensure you don’t have a record, you have to prove that you don’t owe child support. Everything notarized and investigated. You have to get on all the lines and pay all the fees including for the notary. That’s without all the other jazz they keep thinking up, wheel chair and safety courses, language, geography, medical, eye. Maybe joining the army is similar. Just no boot camp. I mean you’re not going to kill anybody. Hopefully.

  4. @ Russell:
    Yes, in fact, I can’t even tell if he was shot from looking at it. I heard what could have been somebody setting off a fire-cracker for all I know — M80s, popular in NY in the ’80s contained a quarter stick of dynamite, the whole block would shake, felt like Beirut — and I didn’t even see a wound on the body. I saw a dark puddle next to his arm where before there was none. There was a truck in the way during the boom. There wasn’t just before and after. It drove in the way just in time to block the view and then drove on. I don’t even know which of the soldiers is supposed to be the defendant. There’s a lot of people just milling around in helmets, I can’t see their faces clearly, and for a long time before something happens. I don’t see anything that looks like a security perimeter. If it weren’t an IDF scene, I would believe the whole thing was staged. Remember years ago, when pal “victims” were filmed getting out of the ambulances they were filmed being put in as corpses? All for the cameras. Could it have been staged? I believe Rabin was killed by his own people when he was wavering to solidify Oslo and have an excuse to squash the opposition. The guy who actually killed him seems to have been an Oswald-like patsy. Was he even shot? And from which direction? Who else was in the vicinity? Have these questions been asked or did they just rush to judgement? How reliable are the witnesses and where are they in the scene? Remember “Twelve Angry Men” where it is proven that the witness couldn’t have seen properly because he or she needed glasses? “My Cousin Vinny” ran with a similar courtroom premise. Could be juice as much as blood for all I can tell. Has an autopsy been done? Has Danny DeVito been brought in on the case? Is Peter Falk still alive? Do they have presumption of innnocence over there? — I mean besides for terrorists. Is the Jewish State the only democracy in the Middle East except for Jews? Should the League of Nations Mandate have mostly needed to specify that the League of Nations Mandate for the Jewish Homeland and after that the Jewish State should be sure not to infringe upon the national, civil and religious rights of Jews? If so, with compatriots like this …

    So Many Questions. So Few Reports.

  5. xxx
    Something that Gordon in her rush to show that she backed the evidence given by the prosecution witnesses forgot…..

    All of their evidence, given after, sometimes long after the immediate condemnations of Ya’alon and Eizenkrot, are useless, compromised and biased against, and would not be accepted in any civilised western court of law.

    Ya’alon and Eizenkrot completely controlled the whole future careers of these witnesses who would not have dared to testify to anything not in accordance with their wishes.

    So…Gordon…… maybe you should reconsider and write another article based on the above comments. As even she said, the video has not yet been examined for veracity and tampering, yet it was the MAIN witness for the prosecution, who, immediately the case was being formulated, called their top expert prosecutor from semi-retirement to make sure of a conviction- in other words, do the dirty on Azaria.

    He did it.

  6. They say that this was the smoking gun evidence. I looked at this video twice and I don’t know what it is supposed to prove. It takes place after the terrorists were struck down after striking. There is a truck in the way when the shot is fired. I can’t see what is on the other side of the downed terrorist. Is there a knife there or not? Did he reach for it or no? Is he dead already or not? He seems immobile throughout, it’s just that there’s blood after the shot. But, if he was already shot, where is the blood? Why are they milling around and talking and watching the victims being loaded onto the ambulance and why are they ignoring this terrorist lying there who may or may not be dead? Did anybody take his pulse? Look to see if he is breathing with a mirror? If he’s alive, why don’t they handcuff him or at least watch him. How do we know that the shot wasn’t fired into a dead body? Do they only bother to do this in the movies? I didn’t see anybody shoot him. I just heard, “boom.” and then saw blood where before there was none. At least on that side of this body. I can’t see the other side. What am I supposed to be looking at? I don’t understand this picture. This whole scene doesn’t make any sense to me.

  7. There is no way to neutralize a terrorist.

    The law and rules of engagement will change.

    Summary execution of attackers is moral and a deterrent against future attacks.