What did Elor do to earn this accolade? In most countries it
might be rescuing a group of people in danger of their life. Going into a
fire and rescuing a child or some such act of bravery. Not in Israel.
Elor’s accolade was earned by murdering Abdel Fattah al-Sharifa, who was only a
Palestinian, who had already been badly wounded in the settlers’ terrorist
enclave in Hebron. Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was already lying face down in
the street as a Magen David ambulance tended to a soldier lightly
wounded. Thus Israel’s ambulance service ignored the first and basic rule
of triage, to ascertain who is in most need of medical attention
first. This is practiced in all British hospital A&E’s as a
queueing system might lead to someone badly injured or hurt dying.
Not in Israel though. Arabs do not fit into a triage system where
the priority is on the Jewish race. In the occupied territories this is
doubly so. An Arab wounded by the security forces, is automatically
deemed a ‘terrorist’ and receives attention last, if at all.
Our Elor, who is a supporter of the late neo-Nazi Rabbi Meir Kahane, was
seriously disturbed by the wounded Palestinian. Why is he allowed to live
he was saying and he took a rifle and nonchalantly shot him in the
head. Normally this would go unpunished by the army. Indeed
it is in the rules on dealing with ‘terrorists’ (people who resist the
occupation in normal language). It is called ‘confirming the kill’.
The only problem was that some annoying Palestinian, who was later
threatened and severely harassed, had captured the scene on a camera kindly
supplied by the Israeli civil rights group, Btselem, which is itself under
attack for ‘supporting terrorism’.
The army therefore had to arrest Elor and the Minister of Defence, Moshe
Yalon supported this. So did Netanyahu until his far-right Minister
of Education, Naftali Bennet started kicking up and condemning the attacks on
Elor. Soon a full scale public campaign was under way to make Elor a
national hero. A large demonstration was held in Tel Aviv under the
banner ‘Kill them all’ (i.e. all the Arabs) and a lovely poster ‘My honour is
my loyalty’ made up the occasion. Probably the idiot who carried it was
unaware that this was the slogan of the Nazi SS!
Now our Elor is coming up for trial. My bet is that he won’t see
gaol time and if, a big if, he is convicted of manslaughter he will soon have
that downgraded to some minor offence. Either way Elor will be free very
soon at the very worst.
The article below seems to consist of a great deal of wishful thinking.
Azaria’s conviction will
end a totalitarian ideology
Sgt. Elor Azaria, surrounded by army friends
This is one in a series of columns by Yakov Hirsch on Hasbara Culture,
and its impact on discourse and politics in Israel and the U.S. You can see the
other columns here.
In the beginning of January 2017, Israeli sergeant Elor Azaria is going
to be found guilty for the execution of Abd al Fatah Al-Sharif lying prostate
on the ground in Hebron last March 24. And the Israeli political reaction to that
verdict will be transformative. It is then that the hasbara culture cultivated
by Benjamin Netanyahu will at last be confronted by a sane Israel led by former
Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
The discourse that will resound in Israel in defense of Azaria will be
incoherent to anyone who is not an adherent of the hasbara culture that now
permeates that society. Naftali Bennett, the education minister under
Netanyahu, has already been saying that Azaria needs to be
pardoned if convicted.
We have already heard from soldiers who say they will go “AWOL” or
even desert should their fellow combatant be convicted of manslaughter charges
by the military court.
Jeffrey Goldberg epitomizes Hasbara Culture (Photo: Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images)
The saga of the Murdering Medic is so important because it has revealed
the way that “hasbara” – or the Israeli tradition of spinning its actions to
try and make them acceptable to the world – has so deeply affected the spinners
themselves that hasbara has hardened into an Israeli construction of reality,
so much so that the many participants in that reality no longer think it is
necessary to even spin bad events.
The real struggle in Israeli leadership is who can control a sacred
ethnocentric discourse of Jewish persecution and innocence. That is what has
shaped Israeli politics in recent years: the heavyweight battle between
Netanyahu and Bennett over control of the reins of hasbara culture.
Let us recall the Israeli government reaction to the video of the
killing when it came out last March. Here, after all, was irrefutable evidence
of the IDF behaving as its worst critics around the world claim that it does.
The whole scene in its hideous naked glory — with the indifferent Israeli
soldier “bystanders” to the shooting, as well as the congratulatory hand shake
for Azaria from his friend the settler leader Baruch Marzel at the end
(as Larry Derfner revealed)—was a nightmare
for the difficult business of hasbara.
The video gave the lie to the carefully cultivated image of the world’s
most moral army.
We all braced ourselves for the Israeli effort to spin the video: if
only to argue that it was an aberration from the IDF norms.
But that is not what happened. What happened is that high officials
in the government said, we saw exactly what you saw in that video, and
it is fine.
Let’s go back to the timeline. A couple of days after the killing,
Amos Harel in Haaretz described it as a
“coldblooded execution” and an inevitable one, but he anticipated official
Scene of the murder
“The chief of staff, who was once a brigade and division commander of
soldiers in the territories, knows [that]… Animal-like behavior like that seen
in Thursday’s incident in Hebron can quickly become the unwritten
procedure for units in the field. That is the reason that the shooter was
immediately arrested, an unusual move for the IDF these days, and the reason
for the sharp public condemnations issued by [chief of staff Gadi] Eisenkot and
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon…”
“Meanwhile, we’ve seen no right-wing campaign in support of the
Even Netanyahu was on board at this point. He said
“that the soldier’s conduct does not represent the army’s values
and even insinuated that the soldier failed to act in accordance with the
military’s open-fire rules.”
This story might very well have ended there were it not for hasbara
culture. Azaria would have been a bad apple. Even the most moral army in the
world has a bad apple or two!
“This soldier was sent by the State of Israel to defend against terror
during war,” he said before entering the [Cabinet] meeting. “That some of this
country’s leadership has jumped to conclusions before the trial is a mistake
and are dancing to the tune of B’Tselem…”
Once the Azaria incident got defined as a story of “us” vs our
“enemies,” Netanyahu had nowhere to go except to agitate with Bennett. Because
it is Netanyahu himself who has cultivated the world view that the Palestinian
on the ground should be killed.
Netanyahu can’t be on the B’Tselem side of this fight!
Naftali Bennett states that “terrorists must be killed, not freed”;
Yair Lapid clarifies, “You have to shoot to kill anyone who pulls out a
knife or a screwdriver”; Bezalel Smotrich cries, “A terrorist who
sets out to murder Jews, whatever his age, must not return alive”; and
Gilad Erdan declares, “Every terrorist must know he won’t survive the attack
he is about to commit.”
In Netanyahu’s Israel, hasbara culture is the only game in town. You’re
either on the side of hasbara culture and all that’s good in the world, or
you’re on the side of the devil. Remember what hasbara culture ideas Netanyahu
most champions. From his speech at the teens’ funeral in 2014:
“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies. They
sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify
That statement and Bennett’s statement of “a moral mistake” in blaming Azaria
is why I insist that we are dealing with hasbara culture.
Hasbara began as the need to make sense to outsiders, to spin reality.
But these leaders are no longer concerned with that project: they will not
convince unindoctrinated outsiders that Azaria doesn’t belong in prison with
this type of talk. Any ordinary person seeing that video realizes that Elor
Azaria does not represent “good” and his going to prison is not a “moral
But for the indoctrinated these statements fall on fertile soil. Bennett
is reflecting the Israeli experience of reality when he says
that the idea of charging Azaria “blurs the lines between good and
evil.” We are good, they are evil. Bennett is saying that the scene of
the Azaria shooting of Abd al Fatah Al-Shari is “sacred.” It’s
part of the us vs them, good vs bad, narrative that is at the heart of hasbara
culture. Hasbara culture understands Jewish history as one long morality tale.
It is the foundation of an extreme Jewish ethnocentric
narrative, which in its telling, started over two millennia ago and runs
through all of hasbara culture’s tendentious telling of Jewish history up to
But we will also be hearing pushback from Israelis who understand how
the rest of the world sees reality.
To understand the other side of this ideological battle, you must recall
Gen. Yair Golan’s Holocaust memorial speech of last May, when, alarmed by
the rising chorus of voices that excused Azaria’s conduct as the appropriate
way to treat Palestinians, he warned that Nazi currents
are alive in Israeli political culture today. The speech resulted in the
sacking of Golan’s former boss, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who had defended
the speech to Netanyahu.
This duality is also what the whole circus surrounding the Amona
settlement is about. Once Bennett agitates and defines the struggle on behalf of
the Amona settlers as being the same as the sacred struggle in Jewish and
Zionist history, Netanyahu becomes Bennett’s hostage.
Ideological moderation is no longer an option at this late date of
Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career. His Manichean scorched earth holy wars against his “leftist”
political and cultural enemies is Netanyahu’s signature use of toxic hasbara
culture for his personal gain; for electoral success.
And Netanyahu’s big political problem these days is Bennett wanting to
become the new overseer of hasbara culture. Netanyahu can never let that happen
– or he is done.
This is not just about securing the support of the pro-settlement
voters. It’s about securing the support of the entire
political culture of Israeli society.
And Naftali Bennett is no ordinary right-wing politician. He has
constantly been trying to wrest control of hasbara culture from Benjamin
Netanyahu. He knows that it is the key to Netanyahu’s success.
Goldberg has said that Jill Stein is crazy for
supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. For the same alleged crime, going
to a BDS rally, he has accused a Norwegian rock band of being Nazis.
What Netanyahu has done with hasbara culture in Israel Jeffrey Goldberg
has done with it here: created a sacred discourse that no one in the mainstream
can contradict. In fact, ever since Andrew Sullivan left the scene, no one has
confronted hasbara culture directly here.
And therefore, the Elor Azaria case is a crisis for Goldberg, too. The
video of the murdering medic set off a chain of events in Israel in which
hasbara culture is NOW facing a serious confrontation. Leading figures have
become dissidents, accusing Netanyahu and Bennett and others of fostering
fascistic strains in Israeli society. This drama is only going to accelerate
when as I believe, Azaria is convicted in January.
Goldberg has had almost nothing to say about Azaria. The reason is
obvious. Azaria executing someone because the hasbara culture voice in his head
told him to may not be a problem for Naftali Bennett and Israeli leaders, but
it is a big Stop sign here. Azaria exposes Goldberg’s achievement: Because in
the sacred and tribal socially-constructed reality Goldberg has created, all
Palestinian resistance is motivated by hatred for Jews. That is why they
attempt to stab soldiers.
a policy – to kill, kill and kill. No taking prisoners, no arrest
procedures, no rules of engagement. Every knife or scissors wielder, every
stone or firebomb thrower and every car rammer – or anyone who is seen to
resemble one – must die.
Jeffrey Goldberg has attacked Haaretz as a dissident
publication, but his career ambitions do not allow him to say what he really
thinks about the “plight” of the Israeli soldier while the world is looking at
the Azaria video. Because what Elor Azaria thinks about Palestinian resistance
is what Jeffrey Goldberg thinks about Palestinian resistance: It’s all about
the Jews. Jeffrey Goldberg’s whole career has been one long tendentious effort
to define opposition to Israel as opposition to Jews, as being motivated by a
hatred of Jews. And that “social construction of reality” about Abd al Fatah
Al-Sharif, which Elor Azaria experienced when he said “the terrorist must die”
is what Jeffrey Goldberg has been preaching to the Jewish community and
everyone else for the past twenty years.
But when even Israeli leaders have said that the case exposes fascism
and Nazi currents in Israel, it is too dangerous for an ambitious “liberal”
like Goldberg to say a word in Azaria’s favor.
It is not a surprise that the only thing Jeffrey Goldberg had to say
about the case was to retweet a Shmuel Rosner article, whose only
coherent message is that the Azaria trial is a PR disaster for Israel. Rosner
repeated former defense minister Moshe Arens’s warning about the
“Elor Azaria’s Trial Should Never Have Become a Public Affair”
That is precisely Goldberg’s feeling. The case should never have become
a public matter because it has only exposed the fact that Hasbara Culture is
now run amok in Israel. And when Azaria is convicted, all hell will break
loose. A broad segment of society will be outraged; a few sane Israelis will
plead for the rule of law. Netanyahu will defend the medic. And Barak will try
to unify an anti-Netanyahu coalition.
Goldberg must have felt like the luckiest person in the world when he
got promoted to being editor in chief of The Atlantic two
months ago. Who could expect the new editor with his huge workload to share his
opinion about what was going on in Israel!
I have done my best to show how the Elor
Azaria story and its reverberations in Israel
have been spun by the hasbarists here.
The people who have made a career out
of obfuscation and obscurantism about all
things Israel (from Max Boot to Bret Stephens to Eli Lake) continued to do so
in our discourse. We will return after the Azaria verdict to assess how these
“journalists” who claim to be the biggest experts America and the Jewish
community have to offer on Israel did on their real life quiz about what the
Azaria story was really about.
Meanwhile we can only cross our fingers and hope that Jeffrey Goldberg–
“no greater journalist writing in the
country today,” and our biggest expert on Israel–
will take a break from his busy schedule and share his wisdom with the rest of
us. What has Elor Azaria wrought?