Many eyes were on Israel on Sunday as a military tribunal upheld the guilty verdict and 18-month sentence against Sgt. Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier who was caught on camera last year shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian attacker after an attempted stabbing in Hebron. Unsurprisingly, the case — a year-and-a-half long legal saga that deeply divided the Israeli public — dominates Hebrew-language newspapers on Monday.
Like its headline, “Over and done,” the free right-wing daily Israel Hayom for the most part skips the lengthy, scathing verdict issued by the military judges, instead focusing on whether Azaria’s defense team will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court or seek clemency from IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.
“It can only be hoped that when the flames settle and a sense of proportion is restored, Elor Azaria will receive some clemency from his sentence,” writes columnist Aviad Hacohen. Though he says Azaria is guilty of killing the attacker unlawfully, Hacohen argues the ruling could negatively affect the performance of other IDF soldiers who will “be too afraid that a single mistake could haunt them endlessly.”
Meanwhile, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily dedicates its entire front page to the Azaria case, complete with six op-eds relating to the ruling and its implications for Israel and its military. Forgoing a traditional headline, the paper instead runs two of the more biting quotes from the ruling. “Elor Azaria prepared himself to open fire, as if he were at a shooting range, not the scene of a terror attack,” reads the quote above the fold.
Yedioth takes a clear stance in favor of the ruling, as do with most of its columnists who praise the IDF for upholding the rule of law and making an example of Azaria.
“Elor Azaria made his own decision when he walked up to the assailant 11 minutes after he had been neutralized, and shot him dead and later lied about it,” he writes. “Elor is not a boy, and neither are his parents; they must understand that decisions in life have consequences,” chief columnist Nahum Barnea writes.
Barnea slams Azaria’s supporters for blindly supporting him out of partisan political loyalty over judicial independence and fairness.
“Apparently, among some Israelis, hating the ‘other’ trumps facts, rule of law, the military’s ethical code, common sense and state responsibility,” he writes. “If you go online you’ll get the impression that this is a nation of vigilante executioners.”
Barnea also levels harsh criticism against Azaria’s attorney, Yoram Sheftel, and the politicians who have whitewashed his crime by calling for him to be pardoned.
Taking a slightly more sympathetic tone is Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon, who addresses Azaria directly in her column titled “Do the right thing,” where she urges him to distance himself from his enablers and accept his punishment.
“Take the sentence and run,” Kadmon urges Azaria. “Run from your lawyer who has a god complex, a sick craving for publicity, and who continues to push you towards the precipice. Run from your supporters — they have their own interests and their concern for your fate is limited. Run from the politicians who did a U-turn in their support for you. Run from all of these people who are calling you a hero, because the day that you enter prison, they’ll just look for another one.”
Sunday’s ruling in the trial also leads the front page of Haaretz, but the left-leaning daily dedicates much less coverage to the saga than Yedioth or Israel Hayom.
Along with Sunday’s ruling, the front page is shared by a recent development in a fraud investigation known as “submarine affair,” as well as reports of infighting in the Knesset’s Zionist Union faction.
On page 4, the paper lays out the details of Sunday’s lengthy ruling, highlighting excerpts of the judges’ legal opinion that Azaria shot the assailant out of revenge, in contravention of IDF rules.
Its columnists, meanwhile, dole out some rare praise for the IDF and Israel’s military justice system.
“The bottom line of this case as reflected in Sunday’s verdict is positive: There are military court judges, and they ruled the army can’t behave like an ultra-nationalist militia, and that the phrase ‘the moral code of the IDF’ still has meaning,” Amos Harel writes.
Columnist Amir Oren praises the court for taking an uncompromising stance on the March 2016 incident, calling the judges’ reference to Azaria at a shooting range as a “winning phrase,” but warns the relatively easy sentence could be misinterpreted.
“To them, the word is greater than the deed. In fact, the word is the deed. There’s no need to accompany it with any real action,” he says, pointing other similar cases in which military judges took a hard-line position on a case and imposed a seemingly disproportionate sentence.
But, Oren cautions that perhaps the judges failed to recognize that an 18-month sentence would not convey the severity of Azaria’s actions to the Israeli public.
“Inside their bubble, harsh words, exclamation points and blunt phrases create reality. But the mob outside ignores them,” he writes.