The case of the Israeli soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian attacker in the head at close range 11 minutes after an attack has polarised the country. Some see Elor Azaria as a hero, others see him as a murderer. Military judges have now had their say. Having been convicted of manslaughter not murder, Azaria was this week given an 18-month sentence, which could be quashed on appeal.
Compare this to Sergeant Alexander Blackman, a Royal Marine who shot and killed a wounded Taliban fighter in Helmand. Both men acted deliberately, but Blackman was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years, reduced to eight. Most people will, therefore, assume that what the Brits call murder Israelis call manslaughter, despite it being difficult to argue that cocking your rifle and shooting someone in the head at close range is unintended.
And compare Azaria’s 18-month sentence to the 18-year term given to a Palestinian teenager last month for throwing stones at a vehicle that subsequently crashed, killing a 64-year-old Jewish man. Again, the world might fairly feel this shows one rule for Jews, another for others.
In his resignation letter last year, former IDF Chief of Staff and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “An army needs to win, but… even after the battle or the operation or the war, we need to maintain our values and remain human beings.” Never a truer word. But his was almost a lone voice. Benjamin Netanyahu joined other ministers in arguing for Azaria’s pardon, even before the trial. Had the PM wanted to “maintain values,” as Ya’alon urged, he’d have supported the judges and said Azaria’s illegal conduct was unacceptable. As it is, he called Azaria’s family and said he’d do what he could. The next Israeli soldier thinking of executing a wounded attacker will know the PM is on their side.
Jews in the Diaspora, viewing this from a distance, now face the prospect of seeing Israel win the war, but lose itself.