The Right to Err

Israel’s media and leadership were quick to condemn a soldier for executing a terrorist, but the public feels differently

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Apart from the question of whether or not the Israeli soldier who killed a wounded terrorist is guilty, the debate sparked in the wake of the incident portrays a false impression of a divided Israeli society where an enlightened minority fights vigilantly against trigger-happy Israeli fascists.

However, a poll conducted on Sunday showed very clearly that most Israelis think that, given the circumstances, the soldier’s behavior was acceptable. This survey monitored social media networks, where 82 percent of Israelis voiced support for the soldier and his shooting the terrorist. 

Since last Thursday when the incident took place, more than 37,000 people have signed Facebook petitions in support of the soldier, who was condemned by the IDF chief-of-staff and Minister of Defense before the facts could be verified. 

According to the Mako news portal, which published the survey, the reason for such overwhelming support is general acceptance of the Jewish dictum “if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.”

Another survey done for Channel 2 TV reached similar results: 57% said that the soldier shouldn’t have been arrested and no criminal investigation should be conducted against him. In sharp contrast, only 5% said that the killing of the terrorist amounts to murder.

The moral position held by most Israelis seems to upset those few who believe, for one reason or another, that killing a terrorist is a murderous act. It would be one thing for Palestinians to get upset over the killing of their “heroes.” Israelis who are condemning such killings are a different matter altogether, for, so it seems, they opt for a moral standard that puts their own lives in danger.

A Channel 2 News report by Ohad Hemo provided one of the more disturbing examples of this moral trend.

Hemo, who routinely airs reports sympathetic to the Palestinians, outdid himself by casting the family of the above terrorist as the true victims in this case. He allowed the father of the terrorist to express his views unchallenged. “This is an army of barbarians,” the father said, even as Hemo dared not ask whether or not the man condemned his own son’s actions.

Hemo is but one. Razi Barkai, a daily two-hour talk show host on Army Radio, has called the soldier “murderer.” Yigal Sarna, another journalist, implicitly condemned the soldier’s officer as a murderer for his killing of a terrorist who in 2008 slaughtered eight Yeshiva students in Jerusalem. 

A minority though they be, these people who question the moral validity of “kill him first” are in positions to influence politicians and generals alike, and the quick condemnation of the soldier in this current case by Israel’s Minister of Defense is perhaps an indication of that influence.

The outcry of the Israeli public, therefore, is perhaps the counter-weight that gives our politicians the needed strength to back-up our soldiers, including those who have erred under stressful conditions.


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