Analysis

Soccer Hooligans in Suits: Israel's Ruling Party More Dangerous Than pro-Azaria Mob

Ministers and Likud politicians likened Israel to a dictatorship, and even some in the opposition experienced a sudden numbing of the senses.

Supporters of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who is charged with manslaughter by the Israeli military, protest outside the military court in Tel Aviv on the verdict day for the soldier, Tel Aviv, Israel, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Ilan Assayag

Outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, the hooligans – several hundred far-right activists, people from the racist Lehava organization and La Familia supporters of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team – let loose. They beat journalists, blocked roads, cursed the judges and the army, and sang to the IDF chief of staff: “Gadi, Gadi, watch out, Rabin is looking for company.”

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These thugs were reined in and arrested by the police. They can be contained. The more dangerous behavior, and greater danger to Israel’s democracy, took place inside the Knesset, in the halls of government and on Twitter. The ruling party, which long ago shed any pretense of statesmanship, looked in large part like the parliamentary arm of Lehava and La Familia. The riled-up mob spit at and hit people, while the politicians in their suits and ties incited and poured fuel on the fire.

While the president of the military court, Judge Maya Heller, was still reading out the verdict, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev was the first to go before the cameras and screech, eyes flashing menacingly, that Elor Azaria was “abandoned” and given a “summary court martial.” Who better than Regev, a reserve brigadier general, to give voice to the fury of the mob? She is their darling who will “spearhead the move for a pardon.”

Read more on Azaria verdict: How the judges unraveled Elor Azaria's defense | Why the Hebron shooter trial is dividing Israel | Netanyahu threw army under the bus / Analysis | Enemies of Israeli republic suffer setback / Analysis  | Hebron soldier Elor Azaria is no hero / Analysis | Israel's ruling party more dangerous than pro-Azaria mob / Analysis | Hebron shooter convicted, but those responsible will never be put to trial / Analysis | The death throes of a healthy society / Opinion

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Someone else who invoked her full moral authority to declare that a pardon should “definitely be considered” for the defendant who was just convicted of calmly executing a wounded assailant, one who posed no danger to anyone, and then lying about it and changing his story without expressing a drop of remorse for his actions, was none other than MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union). Yacimovich, who fought against granting a pardon to the rapist and former president Moshe Katsav, a convict who served more than five years in prison, on the grounds that he did not admit his crime or express remorse, is a thoughtful politician. Either she experienced a sudden numbing of the senses, or this statement fits in with some political plan she is hatching.

But back to the ruling party. Coalition chairman David Bitan sat in the television studio and in the midst of the verdict being read out, dismissively stated that Azaria never stood a chance since the judges were influenced by “the public atmosphere.” As it happens, a large portion of the public is behind Azaria. But this fact can’t penetrate Bitan’s amazing capacity for obtuseness and shallowness.

Deputy FM likens Israel to dictatorship

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, a trained lawyer who up to now had demonstrated a moderate stance on issues of law and order, tweeted that Azaria’s trial was conducted like “a show trial whose ending was a foregone conclusion.” Hotovely is an intelligent woman. She knows what the phrase “show trial” implies and what sort of dark regimes made a practice of it. But she also knows that the Likud primary may be closer than we thought. Last time around, she placed 20th on the party slate, and she is determined not to fall again. To this end, the woman who serves as Netanyahu’s deputy in the Foreign Ministry shows no hesitation in portraying Israel as a corrupt state that conducts staged trials. Not to worry, the foreign minister is not about to fire her.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who won his dream job in no small part thanks to the bullet that Azaria fired into the head of the wounded assailant, has called for the verdict to be respected. It was clear to see that his heart goes out to Azaria. He promised that the defense establishment would do its utmost to make things easier for the soldier and his family – as if they were the victims of a crime.

Education (!) Minister Naftali Bennett demanded that Lieberman bring about an immediate pardon for Azaria, so that this Israeli hero does not spend a single day in prison.

Hotovely is actually right, though not in the way she meant. Azaria’s trial has shown, for all to see, the ugly face of much of Israeli politics. Parties and individual politicians who aim for the lowest common denominator in Israeli public life. Politicians who say a terrorist is meant to be killed, even if he has already been incapacitated. He should be shot the way you shoot a wild and dying dog, though not out of mercy, but for vengeance and deterrence. One of these politicians is Yair Lapid, who at the start of the wave of stabbing attacks wrote on Facebook that “whoever goes to attack with a knife or a screwdriver or whatever – shoot to kill.” Yesterday, however, it was Lapid who was calling for calm: “We will not be guided by violence,” he wrote.