Dumping a classic abuser

On Tuesday, President Obama selected his aide Ben Rhodes for the US Holocaust Memorial Council.

Ben Rhodes wrote the section of the 2006 Iran Study Group report that advised sacrificing Israel to help convince Iran and Syria to leave Iraq alone. Later, as Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, he worked to sell the Iran deal to the public, even admitting that he falsified facts and created an “echo chamber” to make it seem that there was expert support for the administration’s policies. More recently, he justified the decision to promote an anti-Israel Security Council resolution by blaming Netanyahu. Rhodes is very close to Obama and has had an important role in policy-making as well as communications.

He is also one of the likely suspects for the anonymous administration official that called Netanyahu “a chickenshit” (other suspects include Obama himself). Israeli officials consider him one of the most anti-Israel operatives in the administration.

The Council, which is also the board of trustees of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, was created to “lead the nation in commemorating the Holocaust.” It has 55 members, and it seems unlikely that Rhodes’ joining has anything other than symbolic significance.

But what a symbol! Rhodes, who has been one of the public point men for the Obama Administration’s policy of rapprochement with the Holocaust-denying (and perhaps -aspiring) Iranian regime, will now play a role in teaching the lessons of the historical Holocaust.

So why did Obama do it?

This appointment, following so quickly after the passage of UNSC resolution 2334, which the Israeli government says the administration “helped craft,” and the accusatory speech by John Kerry, suggests that in his last days in office, Obama is venting his spleen against Israel and especially PM Binyamin Netanyahu. One tweeter called Obama a “spite machine.”

Obama’s tactics, from the first, have been intended not only to try to objectively weaken Israel diplomatically and militarily (I don’t believe that the large amount of military aid does Israel any favors, and the conditions under which it will be given are much worse than before) but also psychologically, and to contribute to the delegitimization of the Jewish state.

But doesn’t Obama always preface his remarks about Israel by  a reference to the “unbreakable bonds” between Israel and the US, and by affirming his absolute commitment to Israel’s security? Yes, he does say these things. But what always follows is an attack on Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, in which he accuses Israel of denying them their “dignity” and “aspirations for freedom,” and yearning for a state of their own.

Obama is not a stupid man, and he is not ignorant about the attitudes of Muslims and Arabs, including Palestinian Arabs. He knows that “dignity” and “freedom” are understood by Palestinians as the return of their honor by the violent expulsion of the Jews from the land between the river and the sea, and that the only state they want is the one that Israel has. Nevertheless, he still pushes for Israeli concessions that would radically endanger the country, quickly contradicting his initial assurances of protecting Israel’s security.

He places the responsibility for the conflict on Israel’s (and Netanyahu’s) shoulders, ignoring the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate. He draws analogies between Palestinian Arabs and black Americans, something calculated to tug at the heartstrings of American liberals, but so far from reality as to fall in “big lie” territory. He dishonestly suggests that Israeli settlements are “gobbling up” larger and larger amounts of land. He uses the deliberately misleading expression “settlement construction” which suggests that new settlements are being constructed, when he means that homes are being built within existing settlements. He refers to existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as “settlements.”

He often lets it be known that he is angry, even “furious” or “enraged” at Netanyahu, especially in connection with Jewish construction, or even announcements of possible future construction (he has never said a word about illegal Arab construction). He and his surrogates have called Netanyahu names and tried to humiliate him on visits to the White House. He took or pretended to take Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran deal as a personal insult, and arranged for members of the Congressional Black Caucus to absent themselves from Netanyahu’s speech (he himself did not attend or, he said, even watch it on TV). In 2015, he tried to intervene in Israel’s election to get Netanyahu ousted. And he lost his hair-trigger temper yet again, when Bibi made comments during the election that Obama didn’t like.

During the last Gaza mini-war in 2014, he responded to Hamas propaganda about civilian casualties with anger, demands, and even a cutoff in supplies of ammunition and an FAA ban on flights to Ben Gurion airport (just in case we forgot who is the superpower here).

He has embraced the phony “pro-Israel” J Street organization, inviting it to White House events in place of older, Zionist Jewish groups. It’s important to understand that J Street is not simply “controversial” or “dovish” – it has consistently taken anti-Israel positions on every issue, from calling for an immediate cease-fire at the beginning of the 2008-9 Gaza war through supporting the Iran deal. Its funds come mostly from anti-Israel sources (e.g., George Soros). Indeed, the J Street line about being “pro-Israel” is much like Obama’s own insistence that he is committed to  Israel’s security: a general statement that is the opposite of the real truth, which emerges from countless particular actions and policies.

Some of Obama’s actions seem to advance his geopolitical goals, while others – the “chickenshit” remark, for example – seem to be just gratuitous slaps at Netanyahu and Israel. It seems to be as important for Obama to insult or humiliate as it is to obtain concrete concessions. But in almost all cases, an initial abstract statement of support is followed by a more concrete punishment.

This technique is a common form of the emotional abuse found in dysfunctional families. The abuser pretends to care about the victims, but then harms them in various ways, such as spreading lies about them, relentlessly criticizing them, challenging their perceptions of reality (gaslighting), physically hurting them, calling them names, embarrassing them, withholding sustenance, displaying violent anger, irrationally blaming them for problems that are not their fault, and so on.

Obama’s behavior toward Israel and her Prime Minister is classic abuser behavior. The nomination of a man, Rhodes, who is known as an enemy of the state of the Jewish people, to a position in which he will (at least symbolically) have control of an important part of the identity of the Jewish people – and unfortunately, the Holocaust is such a part – is a way to humiliate us. The way he emphatically expresses support for Israel’s security in the abstract and then proposes concrete concessions that are wholly incompatible with it is a form of gaslighting. The insults to our Prime Minister followed by expressions of undying love for our country, which are in turn followed by slaps in the face like resolution 2334, and relentless criticism from the like of John Kerry – what is this if not sadistic abuse?

In two days the US will have a new President, about as different from Obama as can be imagined. There will be good things and bad things about the US-Israel relationship in the future. But one lesson can be learned from our painful experience with Obama: like the woman who finally succeeds in dumping her abusive husband, maybe we ought to insist on a little more personal space in our next relationship!

Posted in US-Israel Relations | Leave a comment

Why they hate us

But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. – Lev. 16:10

He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours alone, but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2

The perennial question, “why do they hate us?” has come up again with the most recent Obama/European/Palestinian diplomatic onslaught, marked by UNSC resolution 2334, the Paris “peace” conference, and the possibility of yet another UN resolution.

The Europeans, whom Alex Grobman discusses here, may be as much an implacable enemy of the Jewish state as the Palestinian Arabs. It’s often noted that the alleged reasons for their anti-Israel activities – support for the rights of the Palestinians, international law, even the desire to placate their Muslim populations – can’t possibly explain the severe double standards, the demonization, the BDS and the obsessive focus that our little country is favored with.

It’s not hard to understand why: Europe, especially Western Europe, has enormous feelings of guilt for the bloodbath of WWII (this is less true of Eastern Europe and Russia, who see themselves as primarily victims). Their response was to blame nationalism – both the psychological attitudes like pride in one’s own people, which they conflated with the racism of the Nazis, and political nationalism.

The ideological remedy was to try to crush out particularist feelings and ideas and replace them with the kumbaya-ism that we are so familiar with today. Politically, sovereign governments have been denigrated and are expected to wither away in favor of multinational organizations like the UN and the EU, which it was hoped would ultimately replace them. Borders are bad, and military strength is looked down upon as atavistic – after all, the UN has outlawed war, and disagreements between nations, while they still exist as such, can and should be solved by talking.

Now along comes Israel, an unabashedly nationalist entity, which at least professes an allegiance to Zionism, an ideology that argues that the Jewish people should have a state, and that the state should have the ability to use force to defend herself. Naturally, this goes against the beliefs of the new world order, but it is much more than a philosophical dispute.

The Jews, as a people, were among the greatest victims of WWII, and by embracing a form of nationalism, building a state and an army and successfully defending themselves, they have thrown the European guilt back in their faces. We have reminded the Europeans that they allowed the murder of our grandparents to happen, that in many cases they were complicit with the Nazis in perpetrating it and even those that weren’t complicit didn’t lift a finger to prevent it.

The Europeans responded by projecting their guilt upon us: they know that their grandfathers were racists and murderers and accomplices of murderers and it’s too painful to deal with, so they make the ill feeling go away by insisting that it is we, the Jews, who are in fact  the racists and murderers. It is us, not them, who are the Nazis. It is an application of the principle of the goat for Azazel, placing the unbearable burden of one’s sins on another creature, which you then make disappear.

They want us to adopt their universalistic attitude, open our borders, stop fighting and try to solve our problems by talking. Needless to say – and of course it is obvious to the Europeans – then we would disappear. And that would solve their problem, wouldn’t it?

The Palestinian Arabs hate us for a different reason. Arab culture is highly infused with the concept of honor, and honor lost must be regained. It’s important to understand that the honor of a person or a family or even a nation (to the extent that one is recognized) does not depend on the truth; it depends upon how it looks to others. If the honor lost is great enough, then it has to be regained by blood. Men kill their sisters and daughters on a regular basis, because it is not acceptable to the family that someone might think – whether it is true or not – that a woman has engaged in prohibited sexual behavior.

According to the Palestinian narrative, the Palestinian Arabs suffered an enormous loss of honor when they were defeated militarily – not only by non-Muslims, but Jews of all people! – and suffered the indignities of the nakba. This honor cannot be gotten back by talking. It cannot be gotten back by Palestinian statehood. It can only be regained by the (preferably bloody) expulsion of the Jews from every inch of “Palestinian land.” The actual circumstances of the events of 1948 – who started the war, who expelled whom, who massacred whom – don’t matter any more than the circumstances under which a young woman got pregnant. Honor must be regained.

An interesting analogy is provided by Anwar Sadat. Sadat launched the Yom Kippur war to recover the territory lost by Egypt in 1967, but more importantly, to recover the honor of Egypt (defeated by Jews! How it must have stung the proud Muslim Egyptians). Thanks to the intervention of the international community, he was saved from a defeat that would have been impossible to hide. He presented the 1973 war to his people as a victory, but they weren’t fooled. A real victory that could have brought back Egyptian honor would have had to fulfill Nasser’s promise that “We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand; we shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.” Sadat ultimately did succeed in getting back every inch of the land that he lost to Israel, but he did it by talking; and talking couldn’t restore Egypt’s honor. Only blood could do that, and ultimately it was Sadat’s blood.

The lesson should be obvious. The Palestinian Arabs are not, cannot be, a partner for negotiation. Only strength can deter them from violence. That’s the easy part.

The Europeans, in the grip of a massive continental neurosis, may not be able to listen to reason. I understand that the burden of their sins is too great to bear. But perhaps we can explain that we are prepared to forgive their grandparents – if only they would stop making us their sacrificial offering, their goat for Azazel. We can remind them that they already have one Jew that went to the cross for them, and that should be enough.

Posted in Europe and Israel, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Jew Hatred, Zionism | 2 Comments

To whom does the land belong?

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. – Charter of the United Nations, chap. 1, art. 2, p. 4

In May 1948, with the end of the British Mandate, various Arab nations invaded Palestine with the encouragement of their patron, Britain, with the intention of seizing the territory for themselves. In particular, Jordan (then called Transjordan) occupied Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, killing or driving out the Jewish population of these areas.

The Mandate, which was established for the benefit of the Jewish people and which called for settlement of Jews in what was then called Palestine, echoed the language of the Balfour declaration, which referred to a “national home” for the Jewish people. The Zionist leadership of the yishuv (the pre-state entity in the land of Israel) quite reasonably interpreted this as a sovereign state. But the British preferred to see it become part of its Arab client states or at least ruled by Arabs.  They had gotten used to “Palestine” as part of their empire, and didn’t trust the Zionists. They also feared Soviet influence over a Jewish state, since the leadership of the yishuv represented the left wing of Zionism. And of course the usual anti-Jewish attitudes played a role.

So Britain subverted the Mandate by being partial to the Arabs throughout its existence, encouraged Arabs from the region to immigrate to Palestine, fought against Jewish immigration – even for Jews fleeing the Holocaust – tried to prevent the declaration of the Jewish state in 1948, and supported the Arab invaders with arms and even British officers.

In 1949, the new state of Israel and Jordan signed a ceasefire agreement which delineated the boundary between the Israeli- and Jordanian-controlled areas. Moshe Dayan drew a line on a map with a green pencil, and this boundary henceforth was called the Green Line. The cease-fire agreement very clearly stated that the Green Line was not a border; it had no political significance and only marked the locations of the opposing forces at the time of their disengagement. The Jordanians were adamant about this, because they viewed the situation as unsatisfactory and temporary: they did not accept the existence of any Jewish state in “Palestine” and intended to eliminate it in the future. In 1950, Jordan violated the UN Charter and annexed the territory it had acquired by aggression, calling it the “West Bank.” Only Britain and its client Pakistan recognized the annexation.

In 1967, Jordan again attacked Israel, and as a result Israel conquered the area that Jordan had been illegally occupying.

To whom does this land belong?

Israel, the state of the Jewish people who were the intended beneficiary of the Mandate, would seem to have the strongest claim. But at this point another claimant arose, the PLO. The PLO, with Soviet help, jumped on the bandwagon of decolonization and fraudulently claimed to represent an indigenous “Palestinian people” that had been dispossessed by Jewish colonists. It received great support at the UN and throughout the “international community” as a result of the influence of Arab oil-producers, by terrorist blackmail of European nations, and again because of anti-Jewish attitudes. Its narrative fit in quite well with fashionable “third-worldism” and anti-racism (despite the fact that its own ideology was itself highly racist).

During the period of 1967-1988, Jordan maintained significant influence in the territories, paying salaries and pensions to civil servants and providing other benefits to inhabitants. Israel did not object to this and allowed the continuation of Jordanian law for such things as land transfers. Israel acted as a military occupier even though the land she was “occupying” did not belong to any other state. But she hoped that at some point there would be a peace agreement in which part of the territory would be given to Jordan and the rest annexed to Israel.

In hindsight this was a bad idea, since it weakened Israel’s claim to having liberated land that originally belonged to her. It made room for the unsound Geneva Convention arguments for the illegality of Jewish settlements.

In 1988, Jordan renounced all claims to Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem in favor of the PLO. It should be obvious that King Hussein did not have the right to give away what he did not own – not the parcels of land that he had used to bribe local sheikhs prior to 1967 and which so bedevil Israel’s settlement enterprise today, and not the totality of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem to the PLO.

In 1993, Israel made a further mistake, this one disastrous for the prospect of peace and Israel’s security, when she signed Oslo I and recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the “Palestinian people.” This validated the fraud which elevated the descendants of recent Arab migrants to a “people” with an equal or greater claim on the land than the Jews, and which gave new life to the moribund PLO – which was and still is a corrupt band of gangsters and terrorists who extort and exploit the Arabs under its control, while it indoctrinates them to extreme hatred and incites murder.

But after all this, the question remains: to whom does the land belong?

The American position on this has evolved over the years, in my opinion in the wrong direction. UNSC resolution 242 was passed after the 1967 war, and it was interpreted by the West (but not by the Soviets or Arabs) to mean that Israel would return some of the territory it had conquered to Jordan, Egypt and Syria in return for agreements to end the conflict. How much and which land would be returned would depend on what was needed for “secure and recognized boundaries.” There was no suggestion that Israel had to compensate anyone if she did not return 100% of the territory. There was no implication that the land across the Green Line was prima facie the property of the Arabs.

In discussions between Israel and the PLO during the 1990s, the idea of land swaps was raised. After all, Israel had given Egypt 100% of the Sinai in return for peace; weren’t the Palestinians also entitled to 100%? And if Israel kept settlement blocs, then shouldn’t she give the Palestinians an equal amount of land from somewhere else so they wouldn’t be “cheated?” Land swaps were discussed in President Clinton’s negotiations in 2000-1, and also proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008, but in both cases no agreement was reached. The swap idea was just a proposal to make the deal more attractive.

President Obama, however, introduced the idea of “1967 lines with mutually-agreed swaps” as a firm basis for negotiation in 2011. This represents a significant shift away from UNSC 242, by requiring compensation for land across the Green Line that becomes part of Israel. It implies that the PLO has title to this land now, and must be paid for whatever Israel takes. But this is sheer nonsense: Jordan could not bequeath to the PLO what it didn’t possess, either de facto or de jure.

Obama, unfortunately, is not a student of history but an ideologue; and the ideology that appeals to him is that of the “plight of the Palestinian people,” about which he has been talking since his Cairo speech in 2009. And he has chosen to take action in the last days of his administration to make the diplomatic landscape fit that ideology.

The position that all land across the Green Line is “Palestinian land” has now been formalized in UNSC resolution 2334, passed in December when the US did not veto it, and which the Israeli government believes was actually “created” by the Obama Administration. Note that while the resolution affirms UNSC 242, it goes on to contradict the long-held Western interpretation of it.

Much of the erosion of Israel’s position can be laid at her own feet. She should have been more aggressive about claiming her rights early on. But I think that today – before the second shoe of the pair that includes UNSC 2334 drops – Israel should make a clear statement of her rights to the land, something like this:

Israel believes that her claim to Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, based on the Mandate for Palestine and her historical claim of aboriginal rights [explicated here by Allen Hertz] to the Land of Israel, is stronger than that of any other claimant. Israel would be within her rights to annex these areas today.

Israel categorically rejects UNSC 2334 and the idea that she does not hold title to all of the land in question.

Nevertheless, Israel has on several occasions been willing to cede some of the land in return for a real peace agreement that ends the conflict and cancels all Arab claims (including right of return) against Israel.

However, any such agreement must, in the words of UNSC 242, provide for “secure and recognized boundaries,” which include continued Israeli possession of certain strategic areas like the Jordan Valley and the hill country adjacent to Israel’s population centers.

Israel’s security is also not consistent with a fully sovereign Palestinian entity. Such an entity must be demilitarized and Israel must retain control of airspace and other strategic features of the territory.

The PLO would never agree, since this directly contradicts its narrative. But it’s the truth.

Go for it, Bibi.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Diplomatic warfare, The UN | Leave a comment

Resolution 2334 and the Women of the Wall

I watched the Israeli TV news last night, which showed excerpts from the funerals of the four young people who were run down by a terrorist (a Jerusalem Arab) driving a large truck, who then turned around and took another run at them before being shot. It was hard to bear. So I am not at all in a pleasant mood.

The Palestinian strategy aims to drive the Jews out of the land of Israel by a combination of violence and diplomatic pressure. Lately, a diplomatic offensive has coincided with both official and unofficial Palestinian incitement to terrorism.

Two weeks ago UN Security Council resolution 2334 was passed, calling Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem illegal, and defining all the land outside the 1949 armistice line as “occupied Palestinian land.” 2334 is certainly the most anti-Israel resolution that has ever come out of the Security Council, and one of the worst products of the UN since the General Assembly declared Zionism racism in 1975.

Instead of vetoing it, as it has previous anti-Israel resolutions, the Obama Administration abstained and allowed it to pass. Indeed, the Israeli government believes that the administration even helped create it. The administration insists that there is nothing new in the resolution. But actually it upends other critical UN resolutions and marks a very significant shift in American policy.

Resolution 2334 was criticized by almost every legitimate Jewish institution in the US and Israel (that is, every one to the right of J Street, the phony “pro-Israel” group set up by George Soros to challenge AIPAC). Even the Union for Reform Judaism’s Rick Jacobs had to admit that the UN “has disqualified itself from playing a constructive role” in dealing with the conflict, although he seems to agree with most of the resolution’s content.

One of the many serious implications of the resolution was that virtually all the important holy places of Judaism were placed on “Palestinian land,” including of course the Temple Mount and the Western Wall (the Kotel hama’aravi).

So I was surprised and even shocked when I saw this news item:

Israeli NGO Mattot Arim reports that Women of the Wall refuses to take part in the efforts to oppose the recent anti-Kotel UN resolution. …

Mattot Arim said it turned to Women of the Wall for help in opposing the resolution because the latter’s website places the Western Wall very high on its pedestal. The site states the Western Wall is “the principal symbol of Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty.” It also refers positively to “the Jewish people’s return to Jerusalem in 1967.”

Mattot Arim pointed out to WoW that the new UNSC Resolution states precisely the opposite – namely, “the Security Council does not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem.” This means not only Judea and Samaria, but also all of eastern Jerusalem, the Western Wall and the Old City, is territory “illegally occupied” by Israel.

WoW said in response that it would not take a stance on the resolution nor join the effort to rescind it. The Women wrote to Mattot Arim that their struggle is “to achieve equality for women” at the Kotel. They said they “choose not to comment on issues which are outside the purview of our struggle” because “our group comprises women of many different political persuasions.”

Mattot Arim is a politically right-wing organization, and the WoW are mostly left-wingers. But it would certainly seem that on this issue they would have common ground. Ironically, if resolution 2334 were implemented and the Temple complex turned over to the Arabs, most likely there would be perfect equality between Jewish men and women at the Kotel – neither group would be allowed to pray there!

Many WoW members support the extreme left-wing Meretz party, which – except for the Arab parties – is the only one in the Knesset that applauded the passage of 2334. For Meretz, there’s no greater evil than “settlements” and “occupation.” These are the ones whose “political persuasions” present a problem.

But then why bother to demonstrate against Israeli policies that discriminate against women at the Kotel if you think the site shouldn’t be part of Israel at all?

Maybe they should think about the conflict between their Jewish spirituality and their politics.

Posted in Diplomatic warfare, Israeli Politics, Israeli Society | 1 Comment

The Azaria verdict

At 10 AM on Wednesday, a military court handed down the verdict in the manslaughter trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, called by the media “the soldier who shot in Hevron.”

10 months ago, Azaria shot and killed an Arab terrorist who was lying on the pavement, several minutes after the terrorist was shot and wounded while stabbing another soldier, who was lightly injured.

The IDFs rules of engagement stipulate that deadly force should not be used in such circumstances (considered “law enforcement” rather than war) unless there is an “immediate threat to life.” Azaria said that he thought there was such a threat, that the terrorist could have been wearing an explosive vest under his jacket.

He was initially charged with murder, but the prosecution decided that it would be difficult to prove premeditation. The manslaughter charge only requires a deliberate, wrongful killing. He could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison, but he will probably get much less than that.

In Israeli military court there are three judges, one of whom is the head judge, a professional who is appointed by the President of the state, on recommendation of the Judicial Selection Committee, like civilian judges. The other two can be officers who may not have a legal background. In this case there were two professionals and a field commander. Cases are decided by a majority vote. There are no juries.

The verdict and the penalty turn on whether the judges believe Azaria’s testimony. They could have decided that he lied, or that he was telling the truth but should have acted differently, based on the information available to him. Or they could decide that he told the truth and that his action was justified.

The trial has been the  biggest thing in the media for the past months, bigger than all the countless sexual harassment scandals put together. The country is strongly divided about the appropriate response to Azaria’s act, ranging from jail time to a medal. Before the verdict was announced, there were rowdy demonstrations in his favor outside the courtroom (which had been moved to a more secure location and closed to the public).

It’s important in this connection to note why the incident became a media circus. The shooting was videotaped by an activist for the left-wing NGO B’tselem and the tape shown over and over by the media. What would probably have been a simple matter – one way or the other – became a national affair.

I’m not going to discuss all the evidence that has been presented, such as whether he heard a paramedic at the scene call out “watch out, he has a suicide vest,” whether shooting might detonate the vest, whether the terrorist had already been checked, and more. The trial went on for 6 months, and a great deal of testimony was presented. The court’s opinion will cite the facts that the judges found important in reaching their decision.

My guess before the announcement was that he would be convicted – that the judges would decide that a reasonable soldier would not have fired, given the facts and the rules of engagement. I also thought that the sentence will be relatively light, in consideration of the pressures on the soldier.

***

At exactly 10 AM, I turned on the radio. Israel Radio’s reporters repeated the words of the head judge, Maya Heller, as she read the verdict (the court did not permit the proceedings to be broadcast, so a reporter inside transmitted her words by WhatsApp to the broadcasters outside). Because there is a requirement that an innocent defendant must be informed immediately, the fact that there was no such announcement at the beginning – the whole judgment took 2-1/2 hours to read – told the story.

Elor Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming of an IDF soldier.

The judges did not believe him, and the judgment was unrelievedly harsh. They rejected every one of his points of defense. They did not accept his explanation that he was afraid the terrorist had an explosive vest or that he was reaching for a knife. They found contradictions between various versions of Azaria’s story, and said that he appeared to be changing his story as he went along in order to improve his case. They gave significant weight to testimony that Azaria said “he stabbed my friend, he deserves to die” to another soldier immediately before the shooting. They did not accept arguments from a psychiatric panel that he suffered from PTSD or that he was significantly impaired by lack of sleep or other factors. They accepted the autopsy data that it was Azaria’s bullet that caused the terrorist’s death (and rejected the opposing view of former chief pathologist Yehuda Hiss, who did not examine the body). They did not credit the statements of several reserve generals who testified on Azaria’s behalf. Finally, they decided that the shooting was not merely an error,  but demonstrated “criminal intent.” Criminal intent!

I didn’t hear a word of excuse or understanding. The judges agreed with Chief of Staff Eisenkot and former Minister of Defense Ya’alon that the shooting was entirely unjustified. Had he been accused of murder, I believe that Azaria would have been convicted of that as well.

The punishment will be determined by the court and announced in about ten days. From what I heard from the judge, I suspect that I was mistaken in thinking that he will get a light sentence.

***

Something here is wrong.

Of course, the IDF’s judges had no alternative. An army has rules, and Azaria broke an important one. His explanation that he felt endangered didn’t hold water, no matter how much one wants to support him. He knew what he was doing: killing a terrorist. The court was right about that and the best explanation for his motive was provided by his comment that the terrorist deserved to die. But it didn’t have to come to this.

Explaining his tough stance last April, Moshe Ya’alon said “Part of the power [of the IDF], as many have described it — Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and others — is our ethical strength. We aren’t Daesh.”

We aren’t. But we also aren’t a people who would send a soldier to prison for killing a terrorist. There is a feeling in Israel that has become sort of a slogan in this case, that our soldiers are everyone’s children. How can we abandon our children? Chief of Staff Eisenkot disagrees. Yesterday he said this:

An 18-year-old man serving in the army is not “everyone’s child.” He is a fighter, a soldier, who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this.

He’s both right and wrong. A young man who is a soldier does have to dedicate his life to – and sometimes lose it for – his country and his people, at least for the 32 months of his service. But he is still “everyone’s child.” Ya’alon said that part of our power comes from our “ethical strength,” but it also comes from the way we love our soldiers – and our army. There are many who would like Israel to have a professional army, but this hasn’t happened yet (and I think it would be a disaster).

Among the most troubling aspects of this case were the statements condemning Azaria’s act made by Eisenkot, Ya’alon, other officers, and even PM Netanyahu (who later changed his tune) immediately after the B’tselem video was made public. Eisenkot and Ya’alon later said that it wasn’t the video that convinced them, that they already had received evidence from the chain of command – but surely it had something to do with their making public statements of this sort (in the US, this would be grounds for appeal).

Indeed, this is where everything went off the rails. Elor Azaria should have had a hearing with his commanding officer, and maybe gotten a weekend of guard duty and an explanation of the rules. Instead, thanks to a video camera probably bought with European money, another kind of soldier, one fighting the cognitive war against Israel, threw the nation into chaos. As usual, we walked right into this.

The distinction between law enforcement and war becomes blurred when terrorists are stalking us – and especially our soldiers and police – in the streets, with every day bringing reports of stabbings and vehicular attacks, as was the case when Azaria killed his terrorist. No, Azaria’s wasn’t a split-second decision where hesitation could be fatal, as the court noted, but our soldiers and police do face such decisions on a daily basis. Could not this verdict deter them from taking action in a situation that isn’t so clear-cut?

Soldiers don’t make good policemen anyway. They are trained to kill the enemy, not to detain suspects who have rights. Enemy soldiers in a firefight don’t have rights.

And we mustn’t forget that in the eyes of our enemies in today’s asymmetric war, no Jew in the Land of Israel, from a baby to an 80-year old grandmother, has a right to live. Possibly if the nation had an official death penalty for terrorism, soldiers wouldn’t feel the need to take the law into their own hands.

In this kind of war, is the principle that a terrorist deserves to die a bad one?

Posted in Israeli Society, Terrorism | Leave a comment