A pardon for Azaria would go some way toward repairing the damage the General Staff has done to its relationship with the public.
Sgt. Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter Wednesday for shooting a terrorist in Hebron last March, is a symptom of what may be the most dangerous threat to Israeli society today.
Azaria, a combat medic from the Kfir Brigade, arrived at the scene of an attack where two terrorists had just stabbed his comrades. One of the terrorists was killed, the other was wounded and lying on the ground, his knife less than a meter away from him.
A cameraman from the foreign-funded, Israeli- registered anti-Israel pressure group B’Tselem filmed Azaria removing his helmet and shooting the wounded terrorist. According to the military judges, the film was the centerpiece of the case against him.
The day of the incident, the General Staff reacted to the B’Tselem film with utter hysteria. Led by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s generals competed to see who could condemn Azaria most harshly.
For the public, though, the issue wasn’t so cut and dry. Certainly Azaria didn’t act like a model soldier. It was clear, for instance, that he acted without proper authority and that his action was not permitted under the rules of engagement then in effect in Hebron.
But unlike the IDF’s senior leadership, the public believed that the fact that it was B’Tselem that produced the film meant that it had to be viewed with a grain of salt.
The name “B’Tselem” was seared into the public’s consciousness as an organization hostile to Israel and dedicated to causing it harm with the publication of the UN’s Goldstone Commission Report in 2009. Among the Israeli-registered groups that provided materials to the biased UN commission charged with finding Israel guilty of war crimes during the course of Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009, B’Tselem made the greatest contribution.
The Goldstone Report cited B’Tselem as the source for its slanderous “findings” 56 times.
After the UN published the Goldstone Report, Michael Posner, the US assistant secretary of state for human rights, visited Israel and met with Jessica Montell, B’Tselem’s executive director at the time.
The US Embassy’s official report of their meeting was published by WikiLeaks.
During their meeting, Montell told Posner that her group’s goal in providing the Goldstone Commission with materials was to force the government to pay a heavy price for its decision to fight Hamas, by criminalizing Israel in the court of world opinion.
As B’Tselem saw it, Israel needed to come to the point where it would consider whether it could “afford another operation like this.”