Taking responsibility in Israel’s Jewish democracy
Amid weekly demonstrations against government corruption, our head of state appeared to encourage the public to continue doing so in defense of our democratic, Jewish country.
On Tuesday, President Reuven Rivlin said public demands of its leaders are a cornerstone of Israel’s democracy.
He told the Dov Lautman Conference on Education Policy in Ra’anana that “we need to stubbornly defend the democratic institutions, and to demand from the public servants, our elected officials, to back up their words and video clips on social media with actions that make clear the redlines that democracy can’t tolerate being crossed.”
In his call to action, the president touched tangentially on three concepts that keep eluding our politicians and, with them as role models, have also escaped too many Israelis: responsibility, accountability and transparency.
Moral responsibility refers to owning one’s actions; being liable to be called to account for one’s behavior. Accountability is the willingness to accept one’s responsibility.
Transparency in the moral realm is the quality of being able to see through a situation free from pretense and deceit.
The weekly demonstrations calling for politicians to exhibit these three attributes indicate the growing fierceness of public resentment at such apparently pervasive corruption. People understand that there is a trickle-down effect of being a moral role model – or a counter-effect of those who fail as models.
There is perhaps no better example of this ongoing failure than the year-long public outcry resulting from the conviction and unsuccessful appeals of a soldier found guilty of shooting a wounded, disarmed terrorist who was lying on the ground.
Elor Azaria, a combat medic, became known as “the Hebron shooter.” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz issued a statement on the day of the shooting, saying, “This is not the IDF, these are not the values of the IDF and these are not the values of the Jewish people.”
The military court agreed, after months of legal wrangling and protests by Azaria’s defenders who refused to accept his guilt – just as he still does. During the long ordeal of his trial, Azaria first claimed the terrorist was lying there dead; then claimed the terrorist was still a threat because he had a knife, when he did not; and then claimed he thought the terrorist might have been wearing an explosive vest. The court also heard witnesses who testified that Azaria said he had acted out of revenge.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot reduced Azaria’s 18-month prison sentence by four months, “out of kindness and mercy,” but cautioned Azaria against lodging another fruitless appeals.
“Your conduct was unacceptable and was contrary to the army’s command and the values of the IDF,” Eisenkot wrote. He further rebuked Azaria for “the fact that you didn’t take responsibility for your actions and that you never expressed regret.”
In August, Military Court of Appeals President Maj.-Gen. Doron Piles confirmed his sentence and the reason for it.
The appeals court ruled that “there is no reason to overturn the [lower] court’s finding that the appellant [Azaria] acted not out of fear of danger, but rather was motivated by vengeance.”
Just last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added his name to a petition circulating in the Knesset calling on Rivlin to reconsider his decision not to pardon Azaria. Not to be outdone, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sent a letter to the president two weeks ago asking him to pardon Azaria. Now, there are reports that Rivlin will pardon Azaria on Independence Day in April.
It is time to put this to rest. In declining to pardon him, Rivlin wrote to Azaria that “an additional lightening of your sentence would harm the resilience of the IDF and the State of Israel. The IDF’s values, including the purity of arms, are the core foundation of the strength of the IDF,” and have helped Israel “in the just struggle for our right to a safe national home, and in building a robust society.”
To keep that national home safe, we also need to preserve its values. What happened to Azaria is unfortunate but the rule of law in Israel needs to be upheld and politicians need to stop using a young soldier – even one who broke the law – as a political tool. They should know better.