Analysis

Netanyahu Joins Mob That Sees Hebron Shooter's Judges as Traitors Who Should Stand Trial

With undying support for Elor Azaria, who killed a wounded Palestinian assailant, the PM panders to right-wing voters despite the judges' harsh appeal ruling

Right-wing protesters in Tel Aviv rallying in support of Sgt. Elor Azaria, March 2016
Right-wing protesters in Tel Aviv rallying in support of Sgt. Elor Azaria, March 2016. Ilan Assayag

The echoes of the verdict in the Elor Azaria appeal have yet to fade, but the two rivals, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, breathlessly took to their Facebook pages with a plea for an immediate pardon, as if the convicted defendant was the 2017 version of Alfred Dreyfus.

Bennett was at least sensitive enough to pay weak lip service to the legal system (“We must respect the court”) but the premier isn’t interested in such quasi-leftist niceties. “My opinion hasn’t changed since the verdict was handed down in January,” he declared, and said he would give his opinion to the relevant authorities – as if his opinion is at all relevant – when the issue comes up for discussion.

Indeed, why should Netanyahu’s opinion change? Why should the firm determination by five judges on the appeals court – two of whom thought Azaria should have been charged with murder – cause him to reconsider? To utter an ethical, moral or educational statement? To back the court and the prosecution that suffered scorn and threats and insults?

No way. Netanyahu will always take his natural place alongside the tempestuous crowd and the internet commentators who see the verdict as an act of treason whose authors are the ones who ought to stand trial. Even if all of Israel’s judges, from the most junior to the most veteran Supreme Court justice would consider the case, in panel after panel, and repeatedly convict Azaria of manslaughter for shooting a dying terrorist, Netanyahu would be the first to demand clemency.

That’s how he conveys to the masses that he’s one of them. And that’s how he signals to the court, to the chief of General Staff, to Israel Defense Forces officers in the field, and to every soldier who wouldn’t ever think of executing a wounded and helpless man – even if he were a terrorist who sought to murder – that he’s with the others.

No one would fall off his chair if we soon see Azaria in the Prime Minister’s Office getting a warm hug of the type reserved for those really special few that the prime minister seeks to honor. The motive is the same – to wink at right-wing voters. This time the price is relatively low; it won’t be the Jordanians who are offended but the Palestinians, the left and the jurists.

Grotesque scenes of family's preaching

The grotesque scenes that have accompanied this case all along repeated themselves Sunday, and may continue to accompany us like a recurring nightmare: family members who brought up a wild weed and who, instead of accepting reality and expressing remorse, pain and humility, continue to preach to the entire world about morality, mixed with curses. There will always be a sympathetic reporter with a microphone asking for more.

The eye-rolling adviser/PR person/broadcaster/politician whose advice and close accompaniment he gave the family (except for the period he spent in the house of “Big Brother”) presumably played a part in Azaria’s going to prison for 18 months.

Backbenchers from the ruling party who came to do some prep work for the primaries at the military appeals court, like Oren Hazan (“Elor, bro!”) and Nava Boker (“You’re the son of all of us!”) – how desperate they must be to try to collect shreds of passing glory from the public benches in the courtroom.

And of course the foppish, prattling defense attorney who’s full of himself, who even after the verdict that rejected all his arguments still dared to stipulate conditions and make demands from the military command. Indeed, attorney Yoram Sheftel announced he was immediately preparing a request to appeal to the Supreme Court, an unlikely prospect given that eight judges unanimously poured concrete into the foundations of Azaria’s manslaughter conviction.

Too bad. It would be proper for this case to end with a verdict by three Supreme Court justices. Any such verdict would only shore up the status of the country’s judicial system.