Liberman and Eisenkot at IDF Southern Command.
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
As the court handed down a guilty verdict to IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, it reinforced the current IDF rules of engagement.
The trial has sparked unprecedented national debate, with several current and former army generals either supporting or condemning Azaria’s actions. Many in the IDF’s top brass, including Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF Spokesman and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, called his actions unethical.
In August, Azaria’s defense called in three high-ranking retired Israeli generals to testify, including former IDF deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Uzi Dayan, who said that in principle, all “terrorists need to die.”
The incident even pitted Ya’alon against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and led to the defense minister being replaced by Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who publicly supported Azaria.
Following the verdict, Liberman urged the Israeli public to accept what he called a “difficult” ruling, stating that while he did not fully agree with the verdict, it was important for the nation to respect the court’s decision, “including those who like the ruling and also those, like me, who like the decision much less.”
According to Liberman, while he did not like the verdict, the criticisms of IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and of the IDF “must stop.”
“I ask we all respect the court’s ruling and show restraint,” he said. “What is important – despite the harsh verdict – is that the defense establishment help the family and this soldier. I call on the public not to lambaste the IDF and the defense establishment. We must respect the ruling.”
“The chief of staff is the commander of the army, and he is committed to Israel’s security day and night, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All the calls against the army’s chief of staff simply have no place.
We must keep the army out of political arguments.”
A day before the sentencing, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot expressed his confidence in the military courts, and that Azaria “is not everyone’s son” whom the nation should protect. On Wednesday, supporters of Azaria, including dozens of right-wing extremists, protested outside the venue of the trial, at times breaking out into violent clashes with police, chanting death threats against him.
“Gadi, watch out. Rabin is looking for a friend,” they chanted, referring to the former prime minister who was assassinated in 1995.
But according to Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, former head of the Manpower Directorate, Eisenkot is the “most popular man in Israel right now. He knows what is right for the army and has stuck by his opinions, even going against the prime minister.”
Stern told The Jerusalem Post that the trial of Azaria “has made both Israel and the army stronger.”
“The army must ensure that the most important values will be taken from the army and adopted by civil society, and not the other way around. We cannot allow ourselves to adopt the positions of la familia,’ he said, referring to the fan club of Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, which has gained notoriety for racist chants and re-occurring violence.
“We cannot allow our soldiers to act like Azaria, it goes against our ethics.” Stern said, stressing that it will now be clearer to the low-level soldiers who are in the field.
“There is no other concept such ‘the purity of arms’ in any other army in the world,” said Stern. “While weapons may be opposite of pure, we refer to ‘the purity of arms’ in the way in which they save lives. And when we use our weapons to take a life, it goes against the IDF values. This is very clear.”
The IDF responded to Azaria’s conviction saying that the army respected the ruling, and would proceed to learn from it and apply its implications.
“Throughout the process, the IDF made sure to keep the legal procedures distinct from the operational ones,” the military said. “The military justice system will continue to operate to review the truth independently and in accordance with professional consideration in each case where suspicion of erroneous conduct exists in the IDF and its service people.
“Azaria’s commanders will support the soldier and his family in any way needed.
The army will continue forcefully while preserving the IDF’s values and giving supporting soldiers for the security of Israel.”