Eisenkot: Politicians lied in saying I swayed Azaria trial

IDF chief tells lawmakers not to pressure army on pardon.

IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
A day after Hebron shooter Elor Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in prison for manslaughter, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot on Wednesday accused politicians of spreading inaccuracies about the trial that have harmed both the IDF and the soldier.
Azaria was also sentenced to 12 months probation and demoted two ranks, from sergeant to private.
Speaking in a closed-door session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Eisenkot blamed lawmakers for saying he had a direct effect on the Kfir Brigade combat medic’s trial and that he draws a clear line between the military justice system and the IDF hierarchy of command.
He said there is a difference between an honest mistake made by a soldier, from which as a commander he should learn, and an act of negligence or moral failure that should not be backed.
Eisenkot pointed fingers at those who said he interfered in the judicial process. “I was told that I have done things that I never have,” he was quoted as saying. “They gave me all sorts of nicknames and labels.”
He also denied allegations that he had rushed to react to the incident, stating that his first comment came on a radio show several weeks after Azaria killed the already “neutralized” terrorist Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood on March 24, 2016.
Eisenkot asked the politicians to refrain from involvement in the legal process, and reiterated that the military justice system has the proper mechanism to decide whether to pardon Azaria.
It will act according to the correct procedure and not be influenced by populist politicians who are trying to score points among their constituents, he said.
The trial sparked national debate with several current and former generals either supporting or condemning Azaria’s actions. Many at the top levels of the security establishment, including Eisenkot, IDF Spokesman Maj.-Gen. Moti Almoz and Moshe Ya’alon, who was defense minister at the time of the shooting, calling Azaria’s actions “unethical.”
Ya’alon was subsequently replaced by Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who had publicly supported Azaria.
But, following Azaria’s conviction on January 4, Liberman urged the public to accept the “difficult” ruling, saying that, although he did not fully agree with the verdict, it was important for the nation, “including those who like the ruling and also those, like me, who like the decision much less,” to respect the court’s decision and stop criticizing Eisenkot and the IDF.
“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,” Liberman had said.
Ya’alon, speaking at a conference at the Dead Sea following the sentencing on Tuesday, rebuked accusations leveled at him by the trial judges during the sentencing who said he should have waited before publicly denouncing Azaria’s actions. The comments, he said, had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval.
“To the prime minister, the IDF chief of staff and to me, it was immediately clear at the end of the initial military investigation that we were talking about an exceptional situation,” said Ya’alon.
“That is why, in a joint decision, we came out together with a statement a few hours after the incident in order to prevent a flare-up in the [hostile zones], in order to prevent this incident from being used as proof of the Palestinian blood- libel theory that seeks to label us time and again as the State of Israel and the soldiers of the IDF who perform extrajudicial executions.