The manslaughter conviction of Sgt. Elor Azaria is no drama. It was impossible not to convict him. After all, a video exists that clearly shows him carrying out an execution. In practice, it was possible to finish his trial in a single day. Its extension was intended to create pressure (external, public and political). By doing so, his dubious well-wishers – his lawyers in the military court, public relations people and his fans outside the courtroom – turned his trial into a circus.
This circus was the swallow that precedes the Orwellian post-truth era – an era that has since reached its peak with continual events such as Donald Trump’s election campaign and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign for survival. In such an era, the prime minister can release, immediately after he is questioned under caution as a criminal suspect, a statement in which he celebrates his innocence, and lawyers plead the innocence of a soldier filmed as he shot in cold blood a wounded and subdued assailant.
The sentencing stage will be much more interesting. Here the defense has much more room to help the defendant. The lawyers cannot just make do with character witnesses and pleas for mercy, but now they can base their claim that can be described as “the sixth line of defense.” Azaria’s attorneys supplied five alternative lines of defense during the trial. They tossed into the arena everything they had, or – in the spirit of the trial – they fired in every direction. In some of the lines of defense, they were aided by embarrassing “expert witnesses.” For example, retired pathologist Yehuda Hiss claimed it was not possible to know if the terrorist died as a result of the shooting; and retired general Uzi Dayan testified that this was a case of not only an appropriate norm of behavior, but also a desirable one. It can be said about both of them, at the very least, that their old age shames their youth.
Another central line of defense, according to which Azaria was worried the terrorist was wearing an explosive device, was particularly stupid. If the judges had bought this lie, they would not only have had to make their ruling harsher, because in that case he not only executed a “neutralized” terrorist, but Azaria also knowingly endangered his comrades and the rest of those present at the scene.
It is the sixth line of defense that may actually challenge the system now, and certainly contribute historic justice to the event that has already been presented as a historic trial. This defense will once again remove the execution from the military court courtroom and place it in its broader context. It does not relieve Azaria from the criminal responsibility for his actions, but may well remind us that he did not really act alone, not even in a vacuum. Just like Yigal Amir, where the legal system avoided investigating those who created the atmosphere and legitimacy that motivated him to shoot Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (rabbis, politicians and right-wing activists).
As in the case of Rabin’s murder, in Azaria’s story everything is documented too. Education Minister Naftali Bennett was photographed when he was practicing at a firing range and saying: “Terrorists must be killed, not freed.” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan declared: “Every terrorist must know that he will not survive the attack he is about to carry out.” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz stated: “Terrorists who attack Jews must not be allowed to come out alive.”
The head of the opposition party Yesh Atid who aspires to be prime minister, MK Yair Lapid, made it clear: “The order must be very clear: Whoever takes out a knife or screwdriver must be shot in order to kill. The sages said: ‘He who arises to kill you rise first to kill him.’ And this needs to be the working model.” Netanyahu in his cowardice kept thunderously silent, and after the shooting even called Azaria’s family to provide support.
All of these people have gone silent, of course, after the foot soldier moved from theory to action. In the meantime, Netanyahu and his ministers have been active partners in firing former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in favor of the firebrand “death penalty for terrorists” Avigdor Lieberman, and they did not even come out in defense of IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot against the fury of the inflamed mob. These are the true character witnesses of Elor Azaria. He is not the child of all of us, he is their child.
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