Former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz released a letter of support for his successor, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, in the face of a public wave of support for Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was convicted Wednesday for shooting a Palestinian assailant who had already been subdued.
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Eisenkot has been a vocal critic of Azaria's conduct since video of the March shooting incident in Hebron surfaced. Just a day before the manslaughter conviction, Eisenkot took exception to those who came to Azaria's defense on the argument that he should be viewed as the son of every Israeli. Azaria's supporters have argued that it was important to back Israeli soldiers in the field in the faces of the dangers that they confront. Many politicians have called for Azaria to be pardoned.
“An 18-year-old who enlists in the IDF isn’t everyone’s child," Eisenkot said on Tuesday. "We demand that our soldiers follow the IDF’s set of values: to defend the country with loyalty and love, to treat people with respect, to persevere in the mission. These aren't just slogans. This is a set of values.”
Gantz on Friday backed Eisenkot. "What you are doing is good and correct!" wrote Gantz, whom Eisenkot succeeded as chief of staff in February 2015. "You are the one to set standards, and it is you who sees to it that they are implemented in the face of every difficulty and complexity," Gantz wrote, adding: "We must not lose our identity as a society."
Similar letters of support were signed by 53 reserve battalion commanders and separately by former Israel Police brass.
The expressions of support by the retired security force brass followed a wave of heated rhetoric against Azaria's manslaughter conviction that included calls for Eisenkot's murder and incitement against the panel of military court judges who convicted Azaria.
"With the delicate existing social fabric in the State of Israel," the retired military commanders wrote, they wish to express their support for the IDF and for Eisenkot. "We denounce statements attempting to divide us and to deepen the schism in Israeli society, statements that harm the democratic character and basic values of the IDF, the people's army," the letter stated, adding that now is the time to support the IDF "for the sake of the country's continued existence as a Jewish and democratic state."
Explaining why he signed on to the letter, reserve Lt. Col. Avia Ben-Elhanan said: "The voices that have been heard from a small bunch of people do not reflect majority opinion." While acknowledging that for Azaria and his family, the conviction was very difficult, Ben-Elhanan said there was a battle code and code of ethics in the IDF to be upheld. "Maintaining the army's values and unity among the ranks is essential and important."
The statement from a forum of retired police brass said the group viewed the "unprecedented harsh criticism" of Eisenkot "with concern" and condemns it. "Without taking a position on the shooting incident in Hebron, the forum notes that as difficult and pointed as the controversy might be," it must not be violent. The police officers said they plan to hold a demonstration in support outside of the Tel Aviv Defense Ministry headquarters on Sunday.