IDF sodlier who shot a neutralized Palestinian terrorist in Hebron in court, March 29, 2016.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
The rhetoric in Israel this week has been appalling: The Right and Left have hijacked the story of the IDF soldier who killed the terrorist in Hebron and are manipulating it for political gain.
It must stop! On one side, extreme left-wingers saw the video of the soldier shooting the Palestinian terrorist in the head and immediately labeled the soldier a “murderer” who should be imprisoned as the worst of criminals. Their glee was palpable as they celebrated an IDF soldier – likely one who identifies with the Right – caught, as they saw it, being immoral and criminal.
This instinctive condemnation of a young, dedicated soldier without knowing all the facts is a disgrace. After all, isn’t there a possibility that he was legitimately scared for his life and the lives of others around him, and instinctively reacted out of the fear that this terrorist might have been armed with explosives? On the other side, extreme right-wingers saw the same video and, without hesitation, judged the soldier innocent, declaring him a “hero” and speaking with great disrespect toward the IDF chief of staff. While many in this camp hid behind the claim that the soldier acted in self-defense, one could feel they were really celebrating that a soldier had finally executed a terrorist – something they wish would happen with every surviving terrorist.
This gut reaction, concluding that the soldier had to have been right – and condemning the IDF brass along the way – is also reprehensible. After all, isn’t there a possibility that there was no one at risk from this seriously wounded terrorist, and that this solder, enraged over his friend being stabbed, made a deliberate and calculated decision – against IDF rules – to take revenge? But that leaders of both the Left and the Right saw the video and immediately turned the soldier into a political pawn is even worse.
How should they have reacted? After viewing the video and experiencing the emotional reaction likely influenced by their political ideologies, they should have taken a step back, recognizing that no one can render judgment based on a short video watched on a computer screen. They should have had the maturity to understand that by making this episode political – even if it earned them a few votes along the way – they would be igniting a firestorm among the general public, and worse – polarizing our nation.
Leaders from all sides of the political spectrum should have made a clear, unified statement: “An episode took place and it is still unclear what transpired, but we are fortunate to live in a democratic and civilized state that has an army with a built-in mechanism to investigate what happened.
We trust in that system, we will support whatever conclusion the IDF reaches, and we accept whatever consequences the soldier does or does not receive.” That would have set the tone and served as a model for the rest of the population, and would have permitted the process to play out in the proper manner.
Moreover, even more disturbing than the leaders politicizing the situation is the language used by each side staking out its territory in this irresponsible controversy.
It’s bad enough saying you are for or against what the soldier did, without knowing all the facts. But when the Right proclaims that those who doubt the soldier’s innocence are not Zionists and not supportive of the IDF, and the Left declares that anyone who believes the soldier acted appropriately is immoral and lacking human values, it demonstrates just how low Israeli political debates have eroded our most basic sensibilities.
THERE ARE THOSE who argue that extreme ideologies enhance a political system because they drive the debate and conversation, which then forces the pragmatic Center to act. But the controversy surrounding the soldier proves my longheld belief that the extremes in Israel only cause damage to our country. The grave internal and external challenges Israel faces do not afford us the luxury of having to contend with the distraction of extremes that inflame the political environment, hijack the political discourse and prevent the unity we need to solve our critical issues of self-identity and security.
Israelis must learn from this episode, recognize the damage that the extreme leaders from both the Left and the Right are doing to our country, and rally together to form a strong, pragmatic political center with the power to address and solve Israel’s many challenges.
But most important, I urge both sides to pull back from the rhetoric, and call on the leadership of both extremes to own up to their exploitation, admit their mistake and lead their camps to do the same. Let us now unify in support of the IDF as it investigates this incident thoroughly, draws its conclusions and makes its decision on the soldier’s fate.
The author served as a member of the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. He is currently director of the Department of Zionist Operations of the World Zionist Organization.
The opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the WZO.