The trial in Israel of Sergeant Elor Azaria for the killing of a Palestinian lying incapacitated on the street in Hebron last March may not be news in the United States, but it is causing huge divisions inside Israel, with one former security official warning of an impending civil war in Israel between Jewish factions.
The August 30 warning by Tamir Pardo, former head of the Mossad, was first picked up by al-Monitor.
When asked if Israel faces an external existential threat, Pardo joined the ranks with other heads of Israeli security branches when he said, “Today, the internal threat must worry us more than the external threat.” He argued that the most palpable danger faced by the state today is an internal rupture that could lead to civil war.
The same article also quoted former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon privately questioning Benjamin Netanyahu’s sanity: “A political source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Ya’alon also talks privately about Netanyahu’s ‘dangerous state of mind.’”
“Civil War” was the headline of Uri Avnery’s latest column at the Gush Shalom site, a piece published by the London Review of Books. Avnery:
This statement means that the recent chief of the Mossad sees no military threat to Israel – neither from Iran nor Daesh nor anybody else. This is a direct challenge to the main plank of Netanyahu’s policy: that Israel is surrounded by dangerous enemies and deadly threats.
But Pardo sees a menace that is far more dangerous: the split inside Israel’s Jewish society. We don’t have a civil war – yet. But “we are rapidly approaching it”.
The split is being driven by the divisive manslaughter trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the army medic who killed an incapacitated Palestinian on the street in Hebron, captured on video on March 24. Avnery understands the drama:
The military trial of [Elor] Azariya continues to tear Israel apart, several months after it started and months before it will end in a verdict…
Day after day, this affair excites the country. The army command is menaced by what already comes close to a general mutiny. The new defense minister, the settler Avigdor Lieberman, quite openly supports the soldier against his Chief of Staff, while Binyamin Netanyahu, a political coward as usual, supports both sides.
This trial has long ago ceased to concern a moral or disciplinary issue, and has become a part of the deep fissure rending Israeli society. The picture of the childish-looking killer, with his mother sitting behind him in court and stroking his head, has become the symbol of the threatening civil war Pardo speaks about.
The idea that the army leadership is now the bulwark of liberalism in Israeli society, and that the brass made the decision to bring Azaria to trial in order to restore order to the country, is also a theme of this Kobi Niv article in Haaretz two days ago. It’s Benjamin Netanyahu and the right against the generals.
Avigdor Lieberman… was not brought to the Defense Ministry to eliminate Ismail Haniyeh or the Iranian threat. This was not on the agenda. What was on the agenda, and what brought about the replacement of Moshe Ya’alon with Lieberman, were Ya’alon’s support for deputy chief of staff Yair Golan’s remarks about signs of fascism, and the IDF’s decision to try for manslaughter the soldier who shot the subdued Palestinian assailant in Hebron.
What is going on here?
The trial is an attempt by the high command of the Israeli army to regain control of their army. By making the unpopular decision to prosecute Azaria, they were actually looking for the spectacle of this trial that everyone else wanted to avoid with a plea deal. They saw this trial as an opportunity to take a very public stand against the recent epidemic of Israeli Defense Forces killings of Palestinian attackers, that they feel were encouraged by politicians, rabbis, and advocates of the “Jewish people.”
Elor Azaria is going to prison if the IDF has the final say.
No matter the verdict this trial will soon become a rallying cry for Generals Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya’alon, Yair Golan, and others who see Israel under Netanyahu heading toward the abyss. You can’t claim to be part of the Western world and have an army that acts like a tribal militia. Recall how Golan ended his Holocaust speech that announced the crisis last May:
[We must] ….ask ourselves what is the purpose of our return to our land; What we should sanctify and what not; What is right to praise what is not; And most importantly – how we should fulfill our role as a light unto the nations and as a model-society. Only this kind of memory has the power to serve as a living, breathing monument for our people, a worthy monument, a monument of truth.
All these people who worry what Israel is “sanctifying,” identify Netanyahu as the culprit. In their own way they each have said Netanyahu is the greatest threat to the state of Israel. They are going to go public with an unprecedented call, for the sake of the country and a sane future, that Netanyahu must go.
The picture Ronen Bergman painted in his Times op-ed months ago, of a possible “coup” because former security officials “detest ” Netanyahu, and regard him as “belligerent” and dangerous, just keeps on getting reinforced. It gets reinforced because it’s true.
These men are sure to get more specific about how he sacrificed the interests of the country for his own electoral and political concerns. That he opposed his security experts at every turn on almost every issue. They will say his war with Obama had nothing to do with what was good for Israel. That it was a personal vendetta. They will try to make it as clear as possible that Netanyahu is a dangerous, cynical, psychopath, on top of his toxic Jewish narrative and Messiah complex.
More than the formidable forces arrayed against him, what should indicate to Netanyahu that he really might be in trouble is one sentence that Jeffrey Goldberg, surely the most influential Jewish journalist in America, slipped into his Atlantic article a couple of days ago. In suggesting that Bill Clinton would make a good envoy to Israel/Palestine should Hillary Clinton be elected president, he added something else in Bill Clinton’s favor:
“Benjamin Netanyahu’s manipulations won’t work as easily on him [Clinton] as they did on Obama.”
The gratuitous attack is bad news for Netanyahu. That Goldberg used the words “Netanyahu’s manipulations” is not an accident and shows Netanyahu is clearly vulnerable. As I pointed out earlier this summer, Goldberg has not written a word about the execution in Hebron and the social and political crisis it engendered. Until now. The situation was too uncertain and unpredictable for someone as calculating as Jeffrey Goldberg to do anything but stay mum. So if Goldberg, a former IDF corporal, is kicking Netanyahu now, it means he must be down. Goldberg has his finger in the air and Goldberg thinks Netanyahu’s future is behind him.
As for the American press, Americans and even American Jews are oblivious to the turmoil in Israel set off by Azaria with his killing of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21. And as for those who do know something is amiss in Israel, it is likely they have read and been deceived by the Likudnik hasbarats Bret Stephens, Eli Lake and Max Boot, who have all dismissed the implications of the murdering medic.
The New York Times has not been any better. Aside from the surprisingly forthcoming Bergman op-ed that used the word “coup,” they have totally ignored the Kulturkampf that this trial has ignited in Israel. Maybe the issue is too delicate for the Times to write about. Whatever the explanation is, the NY Times will not have the luxury of ignoring this story too much longer