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POLICEMEN DETAIN a supporter of convicted soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria during a protest outside the military court in Tel Aviv on the day of the verdict last week.(Photo by: REUTERS)
The politicization of the Azaria affair hurt us all
The incitement coming from The Left and mostly the incitement coming from the Right left me startled and shocked.
Last week Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter.

In anticipation of the verdict, and as a result of it, widespread chaos broke out across the country that developed into divisive, inciting and dangerous discourse. Threads of comments online were filled with people attacking each other relentlessly. On the streets, people from across the country attacked one another, and groups of extremists dared to attack IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the military – and in doing so, the same soldiers whom they allegedly tried to protect.

“Gadi, be careful, Rabin is looking for a friend” was only one of the many slogans chanted during the protests in support of Azaria.

The incitement coming from The Left and mostly the incitement coming from the Right left me startled and shocked. And it was our politicians who allowed it to happen. It was our politicians who further exacerbated an already sensitive situation. They did this by taking what should have been subject of legal/military substance and making it political. Yes, I’m talking about those from the Right who called Azaria’s father moments after the shooting, and posted on Facebook about his innocence before the trial had ended and before all the evidence was in. I’m also talking about those from the Left who condemned Azaria before the trial had ended and before all the evidence was in.

I’m also talking about all the politicians who called for clemency, when in fact a pardon can only be considered after sentencing, which is scheduled for a month from now. Even though granting a pardon is an internal army process that should not be related to politics, almost all politicians managed to voice support for pardoning Azaria, or alternatively their opposition to it.

One of the few politicians who stood out in this regard was MK Yair Lapid, who abstained from making populist remarks of this kind. Last week, as a response to all the comments about pardoning Azaria, he said the following: “It is a process that takes place within the IDF...

Politicians who speak out about it are simply trying to gain cheap points, but by doing so, they are doing something seriously wrong: intervention in the military’s process. The last thing we want is our politicians intervening in the management of the army and the judiciary system.”

Our politicians’ constant preoccupation with “politicization” was a great injustice to Azaria and his family.

But furthermore, and more importantly, it was deeply damaging to our nation. By exploiting Azaria for personal political gain, each politician continued and worsened the mistake made by Azaria, and in doing so allowed the subject to become more divisive and dangerous.

Nine months ago I wrote an article called “Danger From Within,” in which I wrote about a Lehava-organized demonstration I experienced. I wrote about how they held up posters with slogans such as “The soldier from Hebron is a hero” and “Death to the Arabs” and argued that “One thing was clear: the protest was not about the soldier from Hebron, rather that was just another excuse for them to hold a protest of incitement and hatred.” Today, nine months later, when the whole country knows the name of that soldier, I stand by what I said. The group inciting on Jaffa Street that Jerusalem evening is the same group that demonstrated and incited last week, and continues to do so. But one thing changed: the group grew to the enormous proportions of the demonstration outside the military court last week. Why? Because of our politicians.

Because the politicians who are supposed to lead the country and set an example took advantage of a complicated incident, a soldier and the controversy in the country, for the possibility of another seat or two in the next election, or a better outcome in the next poll. In other words, the behavior of the leadership legitimized the behavior of citizens.

We saw the effect of this “politicization” this week, as well, when moments after the horrific terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Sunday the public began questioning whether or not the so-called hesitation of some of the soldiers on scene was a result of the Azaria conviction.

While we should have been mourning, and dealing with the grave situation at hand, we threw out accusations and looked for someone other than the terrorist to blame.

Up until now, never had I really felt how deep the rift in our country is. Jewish tradition is known for valuing a culture of dialogue and debate; someone even wrote this week that that is what unites us. But unfortunately, in practice, this week we were not united. The country’s leadership should be ashamed and we should be ashamed that we lowered ourselves to their level.

People always say that in Israel, we come together when there are problems, when there are wars, when there is danger. But in this case, it was not so.

This time, we failed.
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