What makes this affair tragic isn’t the fact we always knew, deep in our hearts, it would end with a reduced sentence, but mainly the feeling we haven’t learned a thing from the affair.
The hubris can be divided between all parties, as it failed to distinguish between Right and Left and was evident both in the coalition and in the opposition. Almost everyone took part in it.
Most of Azaria’s supporters in the Right—from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made every effort to conceal his initial condemnation of the shooting by publicly embracing the family, to the ministers and Knesset members who stood in line to defend the soldier and declare him a hero—were so busy trying to earn cheap “likes,” that they ignored the difficult and critical questions raised by the affair concerning the rightist-national worldview, including: What is the moral price claimed by a fulfillment of the vision of Greater Israel, and are we willing to pay it?
Moral corruption is an iron-clad rule that was and will be valid throughout history when it comes to one people controlling another people against its will. It’s a time issue that doesn’t necessarily delegitimize the continuation of the settlement enterprise, but does force those who believe in it to look in the mirror and admit this is the required price—and they are indeed willing to pay this price to continue the Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.
The leftists stuck to their own predictable agenda: Not only did they rush to generalize and turn Azaria from a frightened young soldier who found himself in an impossible situation before the IDF’s collective evil in the territories into a killer, but they forgot there isn’t always time or room for civil rights in a war on terror. These rights are reserved for civilians—not for terrorists.
And it was actually the levelheaded, correct and allegedly moderate ones who were put to shame. Because the voices that kept arguing Azaria disgraced “the world’s most ethical army” in his conduct are the ones deluding themselves: Whoever insists it’s possible to sustain a military regime through non-violent—and even moral—means is sticking to an absurd premise. The world’s most ethical army can’t take part in an essentially immoral mission. And even if it has to do so, as it’s quite possible the IDF is forced to do so for security reasons, it should at least spare us the moral pretense in trying to justify it.
The classic tragedies usually end in a conclusion-drawing process: The main characters understand where they went wrong and decide to change their ways, thereby basically justifying the ordeal they went through. But in an Israeli plot twist, the opposite appears to be true this time. Instead of drawing conclusions and correcting our ways, the affair ends exactly as it began. It seems that neither Azaria nor the politicians, nor the split and confused society that jailed him to keep its conscience clear, have learned anything.
Dr. Yoav Fromer teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University.