Israeli Defense Minister Urges Military Judges to 'Ignore Background Noise'

Avigdor Lieberman has also, in the opinion of critics, provided background noise when he commented on the controversial shooting of a wounded Palestinian assailant.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, far right, and President Reuven Rivlin next to him at a swearing-in of military judges, Jerusalem, August 15, 2016.
GPO / Mark Neiman

Military judges must “ignore background noise” and pressure and simply issue just rulings, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday at a swearing-in ceremony for military judges at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“I know that sometimes it’s not simple, but even when there’s background noise from the outside and interpretations by all sorts of experts, you have to know how to ignore them and rule according to the law,” Lieberman said.

His remarks were made only a few months after he supplied what critics considered “background noise” – before he became defense minister. He appeared at a hearing for Sgt. Elor Azaria, the soldier accused of killing a Palestinian assailant already wounded on the ground. Lieberman wrote on Facebook that Azaria should not be charged with manslaughter.

“It’s too bad the military prosecution doesn’t wake up and continues to stick to the distorted version of events under which the soldier from Hebron is guilty of manslaughter,” Lieberman wrote.

“Today it’s clear that there’s no reason to charge the soldier on this count, and the only reason this is the count is to stay aligned with the initial onslaught and the defense minister’s unjustified judgment at the beginning of this affair,” Lieberman added, referring to his predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon.

Two of the judges who will determine whether Azaria is guilty of manslaughter are Col. Meir Heller and Lt. Col. Carmel Wahabi, both of whom attended Monday’s ceremony.

President Reuven Rivlin also addressed the claims made against the military justice system regarding Azaria’s case.

“The public debate is saturated these days with various claims regarding the military justice system. Whatever the arguments may be, we must remember that military justice in all its facets is established in legislation passed by Israel’s democratic institutions,” Rivlin told the judges.

“You are acting by the power of this law and are committed to its rules and spirit. The presence here of the defense minister and the chief of the general staff shows that the heads of the system unreservedly recognize the military judiciary’s independence and the judicial excellence for which you have been chosen.”

The incoming president of the military courts unit, Maj. Gen. Doron Piles, also spoke at the ceremony.

“Military courts deal with a very wide variety of issues that relate not only to the fabric of military life,” said Piles, who will also serve as president of the Military Court of Appeals. “They often deal with topics that are at the heart of the experience of Israeli society as a whole.”