Frustration, anger, racist chants and the lionization of a jailed soldier were in full effect in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv Tuesday night, as a few thousand rallied in support of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the day after he was charged with manslaughter.
Sixty-year-old Edi Arusilevi of Petah Tikva said he came “because we must support the IDF, it’s our family”, adding that “people who sit in offices all day and are judging Azaria don’t understand what soldiers go through.”
Like others though, he said it could be the case that Azaria’s conduct was wrong and that he will support whatever decision the military court makes.
The rally was held the day after Azaria, a 19-year-old Kfir Brigade medic from Ramle, was charged with manslaughter by a military court in Jaffa, a month after he shot a subdued Palestinian attacker in Hebron, minutes after the terrorist had stabbed and lightly wounded a soldier.
In video of the incident, Azaria, who arrived minutes after the incident was over and the attacker, who had been shot and wounded, was motionless on the ground, can be seen firing a single shot into the man’s head, killing him.
At the rally, there were those who said Azaria is a hero and that any terrorist who attacks a Jew or soldier must die and that “the boy” must be released. Others said it appears his conduct was wrong, but that he is by no means a murderer.
Mixed in was a liberal helping of resentment towards the media, who many said “lynched” Azaria before he ever got his day in court.
And though the protest was billed as an apolitical show of support for an embattled young soldier, the crowd was heavily right-wing, with a large number of Kahane Lives! stickers and T-shirts and ecstatic crowds singing hooligan chants calling for “death to the Arabs.” Many of the signs also left little to the imagination, including one held aloft by a young woman that read simply “Kill Them All.”
On Monday, following a wave of backlash against the rally, singers Eyal Golan and David D’Or pulled out, with both saying they did not realize how polarizing the story is and only wanted to show the support for Azaria and his family. Their place was taken by singers Moshik Afia and Maor Edri, as well as a troupe of Breslov Hassidim, among other acts.
The rally was announced only on Sunday night, when organizer Sharon Gal, a broadcaster and former MK for Yisrael Beytenu, wrote a Facebook post calling on the public to demand the soldier’s release.
Gal said the slogan of the rally would be “We won’t abandon a fighter; we give our support to the IDF.”
Gal stood before the crowd Tuesday night and said, “We were taught at a young age never to abandon one of our own.” He also repeatedly called for the crowd to stick to a message of positivity and avoid cheers like “death to the Arabs” and “release the boy or we’ll turn the country over,” but was to some extent rebuffed by the crowd, which numbered only a few thousand in the mostly empty square.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon – who has been the subject of intense criticism from the Right since the case opened last month, said Monday when asked about the rally that “we are not Islamic State – when we need to kill, we kill. But when the person is neutralized and not raising their hands, this is when it’s important that we maintain our moral compass.”
The tone of resentment Tuesday night was expressed in no uncertain terms by 35-year-old Alexander Goldenstein of Beit Dagan, who was wearing a shirt reading “Israeli Drunk Legions” and knocking back beers with some friends.
“The fuel for this protest is frustration at what’s happening.
Frustration that they’re just throwing the guard at the gate under the bus. Our government are cowards and they prefer to abandon this soldier just to please the foreign media and leaders in Europe. He’s paying the price for all these elitists.”
There was also, as much as anything else, a great deal of emotion on display.
Choking back tears, Azaria’s mother, Oshra, said on stage Tuesday, “My Elor, very few people know who you are, or the big heart you have. You were raised with morals and a love of the homeland.”
She added, “You always tell me ‘be strong,’ but how can we do that?” Azaria’s father, Charlie, also called for solidarity.
Dvorah Gonen, whose son Danny was murdered in a shooting attack in the West Bank last June, gave a long speech expressing her fears that other young men – including soldiers – will be killed like her son, because they hesitated to use force out of fear they’d be charged with a crime. She also addressed the young people in the crowd, telling them that serving in the army is the greatest privilege they have.
She finished her comments with a statement that was met by a loud surge of applause, saying “any terrorist who comes to kill a Jew because they are exercising their right to live in their homeland, his judgment is death.”
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog called upon the public not to attend Tuesday night’s rally in Tel Aviv that was organized by the family of Elor Azaria, the soldier who shot a neutralized Palestinian terrorist in the head in Hebron on March 24.
Herzog spoke at an event at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute in which an award named after his father, the late president Chaim Herzog, was presented to former IDF OC Human Resources Orna Barbivai.
“The honor of the IDF, which is our national spine, is facing a brutal, wicked, cynical and damaging attack,” Herzog said.
“I understand the pain of the Azaria family but I call upon them not to turn their harsh and complex incident into a campaign against the IDF, its values and its authority.
Such a campaign would not serve the best interests of their son and only help irresponsible politicians, Internet bullies and publicity-seeking singers.”
Herzog said it was significant that no minister or senior figure of the Likud, Yesh Atid or Zionist Union was attending the rally.
“It is a rally of the extreme Right that is intended to weaken the values of the IDF,” Herzog said. “It harms the spirit of the IDF and supports rebellion. Stop the witch hunt, and let the IDF provide security.”
Herzog’s point of view received rare support from his Zionist Union rival, MK Shelly Yacimovich.
“It is a rally against the IDF and its chief of staff,” she said.
“The extreme right wing that does not recognize the state’s institutions is using it as an excuse for a political campaign. It is a rally showing support for an act that has no heroism and is completely foreign to the values of the IDF.”
But Yacimovich added that the right to protest, even for opinions that are shocking, is a basic right in Israel.
By contrast, Likud MK Oren Hazan called upon Israelis to attend the event.
“Love of the Land of Israel and supporting the IDF is not a matter of politics but of free love (ahavat hinam),” he said. “The story of Elor is the story of all of us. This is the time to demonstrate unity and show support for the men