January 9, 2017: Readers weigh in with another side to the Azaria case

Taking a life, whether that of a terrorist or a saint, is a very serious and irreversible act, and Judaism has traditionally been very cautious in this regard.

January 8, 2017 21:02

Letters. (photo credit: REUTERS)

I believe that readers whose letters have appeared in The Jerusalem Post regarding the conviction of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria got it all wrong.

According to all reports, Sgt. Azaria reached the location of the confrontation about 10 minutes after the terrorist was neutralized. He was brought there as a medic, not as a combat soldier. When he arrived, everything was quiet from a military standpoint; it was not as if it were a field of battle, as some of the letters have implied.

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If Azaria had any doubts whether the terrorist was truly neutralized, he should have asked the officer in charge whether further action was needed. Unfortunately, he did not consult anyone, but instead went up to the supine figure of the terrorist and shot him in the head, thereby killing him.

In my opinion, the judges came to the correct verdict.

What would the responding readers say if a 19 year old boy took the family car to a party, where he drank alcoholic beverages and then drove home, on the way running into a pedestrian and killing him? Would they justify his actions by saying that he is only a 19 year old, so how can we expect him to understand the dangers of his actions? By the way, I have had five grandsons serving in the IDF, one of whom is serving in a special unit.

Petah Tikva

The Azaria case is indisputably a hard case.

It started off as a reasonably straightforward case, but unfortunately for Azaria, everybody stepped in with wildly ill-informed and emotional accusations. They were joined by politicians rushing in to make “vote-catching” appeals to President Reuven Rivlin to grant immediate or subsequent clemency.

The simple story – undoubtedly with guidance and encouragement from Azaria’s legal team – was changed about five times, with obvious after-the event concoctions that created a dishonest twist to the entire defense. The soldier paid a price for this “assistance.”

The judgment of the court was unrelentingly meticulous, a wonderful example of judicial logic and expression leading to a verdict of guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.

If this judgment is interfered with in any way – if Azaria’s conviction is upset or any sentence is downgraded to a slap on the wrist – the result will be a precedent for every soldier, saying he or she can kill an alleged terrorist with impunity and not suffer any consequences, even if the terrorist is completely immobilized and no threat to anybody. Among other things, this would destroy Israel’s claim to have the most moral army in the world.

This hard case must not be turned into bad law, and thank goodness that President Rivlin continues to add to the dignity and respect due his office by announcing that he will not consider the matter of clemency until the proceedings are over and the proper person to request this applies to him.

The writer is an attorney.

Calls to pardon Elor Azaria, while stemming from the understandable feeling that he represents our own children serving in the IDF and that therefore his actions should be excused, threaten to harm Israel’s legal and moral standing in the world. One of the strongest arguments against placing Israel in the dock before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is that we are capable of investigating and sanctioning appropriately our own wrongdoers.

We claim to have a judiciary that is independent from the rest of the government, allowing it to judge and convict alleged criminals even in the most unpopular cases. We also claim that our military acts with the highest moral standards in the world. A pardon for Azaria would give the lie to both of these assertions.

A military court, having heard all the evidence over many months and having explained in great detail the accused’s guilt, would see its decision overturned by a government reacting (perhaps for domestic political reasons) to emotional, non-legal demands from the public. The ICJ and much of the rest of the world would interpret this as Israel declaring open season on any individual who opposes our country, even if that person is no longer an imminent threat. Such an outcome might provide temporary emotional comfort, but our defense to future allegations of war crimes before the ICJ would be severely compromised.

We should wait until the court imposes its sentence.

There will be time enough to decide whether the punishment meted out might appropriately be reduced, taking into account mitigating factors such as Azaria’s age, limited training, and possible unfitness for combat. That is a far cry from saying to the world that manslaughter is no longer a crime when the victim is a Palestinian.

Zichron Ya’acov

Taking a life, whether that of a terrorist or a saint, is a very serious and irreversible act, and Judaism has traditionally been very cautious in this regard. The hysteria following the conviction of Elor Azaria is an indication of the extreme polarization and politicization that we’ve undergone in recent years.

The true test of our society does not lie in what is probably a justified conviction, but in the sentencing phase, where extenuating circumstances are much more relevant.


Your January 8 editorial “Premature pardon” points out that 70% of the public favors a pardon for Sgt. Elor Azaria, and calls this a “worrisome figure reflecting a rift between public opinion and judicial prudence.”

Having been a trial attorney for more years than I care to admit, I feel that a rift does not have to exist. Nothing in judicial prudence or the law provides that justice need be devoid of compassion or overlook public opinion.

Zichron Ya’acov

I often thought during the eight-month-long trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria what would have happened if he from the start said frankly: “I was overcome by indignation that someone had tried to kill my friend, and I lost it. I thought that one who does that loses his right to live, and I proceeded to shoot him in order to kill him. Now I understand that such behavior is unbecoming of an IDF soldier. I’m also a fallible human being and I might have placed myself in trouble for nothing because the terrorist easily would have died without my intervention. I’m not sorry he died, but I’m sorry that I lost it.”

Such a statement could have prevented a lengthy trial, many compounding lies and the emotional over-involvement of accusers and supporters nationwide and beyond. It could have merited a more favorable verdict, as judges everywhere dislike dishonesty.

As far as I can see, Azaria is the victim not of circumstance or bad courts, but of wrong legal advice.



Reader Joseph M. Schwarcz’s letter of January 6 (“Readers discuss conviction of Sgt. Elor Azaria”) was incorrectly edited in a way that changed the meaning. The letter should have said: “In a war, a soldier cannot always shoot at an enemy soldier. He cannot shoot when the enemy has raised his unarmed hands in surrender or is already a prisoner.”

The letters editor apologizes to Mr. Schwarcz for the error.

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