Bibi Takes His Time to Speak Up About Incitement Against IDF Commander

Finally addressing the issue of the officer under attack for his telling testimony about the Hebron shooter, the tone of Netanyahu's remarks to his Likud party is that of someone half-heartedly fulfilling an obligation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the scene of a terrorist attack in downtown Tel Aviv on Thursday, June 9, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

Here is a basic truism. People talk crap. Let a person, even a grizzled, seasoned politician, anywhere near a podium and microphone for an hour, several times a month, and at some point, he’ll probably say something he will regret.

The internet just intensifies this problem because it doesn’t even take a podium or microphone, or the physical presence of an audience, for stuff to hit the fan there. And what might just pass as a joke, good or otherwise, among friends in a WhatsApp group may not meet the test of political correctness when widely disseminated.

In recent months there has been a heated debate about the warning the deputy Israeli chief of staff, Yair Golan, issued while speaking on Holocaust Day eve on “revolting trends” and similarities between certain goings-on in 2016 Israel and pre-Holocaust Germany.

We also witnessed storms in teacups over other idiocies, uttered by the left and the right: the candidate for board chair of Channel 10 News, who compared members of the Shas party to thieves (he denies all): the TV broadcaster who professed astonishment at proof that “sane settlers” exist; the adviser to the justice minister moaning about the events commemorating Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination; and most recently, the spokesman of opposition leader Isaac Herzog who accused the settlers of "building swimming pools with slain children’s blood,” no less.

And of course there’s the affair of Elor Azaria, the soldier who killed a disarmed and wounded Palestinian terrorist in Hebron in March. The latest wrinkle in this affair is the campaign of online threats against Azaria's commander, Kfir Brigade company commander Tom Naaman – because he had the gall to testify in military court that shooting the injured Palestinian had no operational justification.

IDF Kfir Brigade company commander Tom Naaman, who testified in the trial in early June, 2016, of so-called Hebron shooter Elor Azaria, who was under his command.
Moti Milrod

The campaign of terror against Naaman ranges from an explicit threat to break his legs (that from a settler, whom the police summoned for questioning two days ago) to sanctimonious internet posts by a not-particularly-good rapper, inciting his tens of thousands of followers against the officer.

Such attacks on commanders are unusual, and unacceptable, for two reasons. They mark a young officer doing his duty as a target; and they constitute an attempt to terrorize witnesses in a trial, namely fighters from Azaria’s battalion who saw the incident, as well as Maj. Gen. David Shapira, the commander of the Shimshon battalion in which they all served.

After the way things developed, the top Israel Defense Forces brass needed to stand firmly behind Naaman, and thus it did on Sunday. Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot called Naaman to offer support, and also released a statement along those lines through the IDF Spokesman's Office.

But events since Eisenkot’s statement have taken a somewhat ludicrous turn. Yet again the stopwatch and the ruler come out, measuring which politician says what and when, whether efforts to shake off various claims meet all the expectations.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had no problem publishing a prompt message of support for the beleaguered commander, as did Naftali Bennett, who initially had come out in defense of the shooter, Azaria. In general it seems that Bennett tweets faster than most of us can even think or shape an opinion.

As for new the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in March he had come to court to show solidarity with Azaria’s family; this time around he heard the news of the attacks on Naaman belatedly, after landing for an official working visit in Washington.

He finally squeezed out a generalized statement, castigating any insult of Israeli army officers. It somehow sounded like one of the lame condemnations issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' office after terror attacks against Israelis.

The prime minister waited until Monday afternoon to respond to the furor over Naaman.

Netanyahu has two problems: One is that the press already noticed his tendency to express politically charged opinions only after Naftali Bennett has broken ground with his own statement. Second, Netanyahu is on the soldier’s side in this case. Not only did he phone Azaria’s father a week after the incident: As Haaretz reported last week, the prime minister had planned to invite Azaria’s parents to his official residence, but was persuaded to forgo the notion.

Netanyahu condemned the attacks against Naaman at the Likud faction meeting on Monday. He sounded like someone fulfilling an obligation while seeking to distance himself as far as possible from the headache.