Politicians – The Threat from Within

The grandstanding of politicians in the Azaria case is a threat to the IDF, Israel’s most respected institution, and to the judiciary which is fundamental for the functioning of any society.

Elor Azaria, an army medic, was tried and convicted of manslaughter for killing an unarmed, wounded, Palestinian terrorist.
Yoav Zitun and Yonatan Baniyeh write in the January 4 edition of YnetNews, ‘Sgt. Elor Azaria was convicted by unanimous decision of manslaughter on Wednesday morning after shooting dead a seriously wounded terrorist who carried out a stabbing attack just moments earlier in Hebron last year. Azaria will be sentenced in about a month and could face several years in prison. “He opened fired in violation of orders, the terrorist did not pose any threat,” the three judges wrote.’

The article goes on to explain the reasoning of the judges, ‘Before announcing the final verdict, Central Command Chief Justice Col. Maya Heller systematically rejected all of Azaria’s defense arguments for over two-and-a-half-hours. Judge Heller emphasized that “the verdict is based solely on the evidence brought forth (in the trial)” amid repeated claims from Azaria’s supporters that senior IDF leadership, politicians, the media and even public opinion could influence the ruling. “There is no question that the defendant shot from close range after aiming his gun at the terrorist’s head and there is no dispute that by doing so he endangered the lives of those around him,” she stated.

She also sought to debunk what she described as conflicting claims made by the defense teams. “The defendant tried to hold the rope at both ends—on the one hand he claimed the terrorist moved and on the other that he was already dead before he (Azaria) shot him,” she noted.

“There was no justification for the shooting. The fact that there was a terrorist on the ground who sought to take the lives of soldiers did not justify disproportionate action,” she insisted. “Azaria’s shooting was inconsistent with the rules of opening fire.’

Raoul Wootlif describes the reactions of Israeli politicians to the conviction. Naftali Bennett, the head of the Bayit Yehudi party and the Education Minister, led the chorus attacking the military court by demanding a pardon. ‘Moments after Judge Maya Heller finished nearly three hours of reading the verdict, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, reiterated a call he made the previous day, saying Azaria must be pardoned “immediately, right now.”’ Bibi, fearing that he might lose some supporters, followed along and pandered to the public. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the head of Shas who has done time for corruption, also demanded a pardon. Shelly Yacimovich, a former leader of the Labor Party, joined the chorus.

Who behaved responsibly? Moshe Ya’alon, a former Minister of Defense and former Chief of Staff of the IDF, is at the top of the list. When General Ya’alon resigned as Defense Minister he stated, “I found myself in difficult political arguments with the prime minister over core values.” “Regrettably, there are senior politicians in our country who have chosen to incite and split up sections of Israeli society from one another, instead of unifying and connecting them. I find it unacceptable that we be divided due to cynicism and a lust for power, and I have repeatedly voiced my opinion on the matter out of honest concern for the future of both the current generation in Israel and the ones that will follow.

“Those who lead us must do so based on ethics, an inner compass and at times against an opposing gale-force wind. They should work to outline a path, and not get blown off course for electoral reasons or in light of public surveys, nor should they conduct or agree to any reckless and irresponsible discourse.” He continued, “Fundamentalist influences have taken over Likud. This is not the same Likud that I joined. A spirit of fracturing is ruling the movement.

‘The opposition Yesh Atid party’s chairman, Yair Lapid, said the conclusion of the court case was a time for unity and not further division. “I call on everyone to end the violence and stop the irresponsible statements coming from within the political system,” he said in a statement. “It’s not the way of the Jewish people, of the State of Israel or of the IDF. The court has made its decision and now we also have a role: to prevent a rift in our society and to ensure no harm comes to the people’s army. The State of Israel is powerful because of our wonderful military, our officers and our soldiers and because we are a country of law and order.”’

Surprisingly Avigdor Liberman, the Defense Minister, who supported Azaria before becoming Defense Minister, has accepted the responsibilities of his office and supported the Military Court’s decision.

President Rivlin has also refused to pander. As reported in the Times of Israel of January 4, ‘In a statement released hours after the verdict, Rivlin’s office said requests will only be dealt with after all legal proceedings have ended. “In accordance with standard practice regarding requests for pardons on this or any case, requests for pardons are dealt with when submitted by the applicant themselves, or by one with power of attorney, or an immediate relative, following a conclusive judicial ruling,” the statement read. “In light of the foregoing, and in relation to the case of the soldier Elor Azaria, in the event that a pardon should be requested, it will be considered by the president in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities.”

In the wake of the conviction, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the IDF Chief of Staff, had threats made on his life. ‘Protesters verbally attacked Eisenkot outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where Azaria’s verdict was delivered, shouting slogans including, among other things, “Gadi watch out, Rabin is looking for a friend,” referring to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist in 1995.’ Similar threats were made against the judges who found Azaria guilty.

This pandering by politicians is truly frightening and threatens the values that have made Israel strong!

Then there is the alleged corruption – a tale of Bibi, Noni and the Gingy. As a long time resident of Illinois, I’m not surprised by crooked politicians. Our governors go directly to jail after finishing their terms in office. I expect newspapers to have a bias in their reporting – most do. Nevertheless I am shocked by the super-cynical negotiations between Noni Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Ahronot, and Bibi.

What happened? The Times of Israel of January 13 states, ‘Netanyahu and Mozes were reportedly discussing a deal, which was never implemented, that would have seen the prime minister work to reduce the circulation of the Israel Hayom daily newspaper — Yedioth’s biggest rival — in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yedioth. Adelson is the driving force behind Israel Hayom, which is seen as stridently pro-Netanyahu.

According to a new transcript of the recordings reported by Channel 2 on Friday, Mozes asked Netanyahu: “What’s the bottom line? How do we do it?” “We can legislate it,” Netanyahu replies, but then he hedges. “I want to talk to the gingy, who is in Israel in two weeks,” he says. Channel 2 explained that investigators say “gingy” is a reference Adelson. The term “gingy” is often used as a nickname in Israel for redheads like Adelson.’ As the deal was never implemented, we surmise that the gingy did not approve. It will be interesting to see Adelson’s testimony.

When we are aware of a newspaper’s biases, we can correct for them. After reading an analysis in Haaretz, and then reading about the same subject in the Jerusalem Post, we might hope to have some understanding of the truth. Each distorts reality by a selective presentation of the facts. Their misrepresentations are typically lies of omission. One expects Yediot to have a moderately left of center bias. If the deal between Bibi and Noni had been implemented, the public would have been seriously misled. An informed electorate is the foundation of democracy.

Then there is the alleged $150,000 of gifts of cigars and champagne given to Bibi and Sara Netanyahu by Arnon Milchan. That’s just par for the course. If it’s found to be corruption, Bibi will go. Israel puts its criminals in jail, be they Presidents or the Prime Ministers. The threat to Israel is the engendering of more public cynicism and distrust of the system.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.