Israel’s still relatively new Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) on Monday distinguished himself from his predecessor in the most decisive way, when he stressed that both the medic Elor Azaria who is on trial this week for shooting dead a terrorist who had already been neutralized; and the soldier from the Netzah Yehuda battalion who may go up on charges for shooting a psychologically impaired Arab who stormed–albeit unarmed–an IDF post outside Ofra, are innocent until proven guilty.
The statement, which contradicted former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s all out attack on Azaria only a few hours after anti-Zionist NGO B’Tselem released a video showing the shooting, before an investigation into the matter had been launched, was a more decisive note of change at the Defense helm than even the 50 sorties Liberman had sent into the Gaza Strip the other day, only 15 minutes after a single Hamas rocket had fallen in the town of Sderot.
The loud and clear statement from the Defense Minister that he will back his soldiers rather than sic lawyers at them will likely go a long way to improve IDF morale, because, as Liberman reminded reporters on Monday, “In the State of Israel, in a Democratic country, only the court has the right to convict, not the media. And as long as a man was not convicted he is innocent.”
Liberman also told the reporters that “soldiers cannot go out on a mission with an attorney attached to them. Which is why sometimes they make the right decision, sometimes they don’t. But we can’t have a situation whereby every soldier would be asking for legal advice before they go out on a mission.”
Liberman’s comments were made on a day when the Elor Azaria defense was doing exceptionally well, calling to the stand a witness that had been on the prosecution’s list but was not called up. Soon enough it became clear why the prosecutors chose to skip him — a platoon commander in Azaria’s company, he fully supported the medic’s version that the terrorist on the ground was suspected of carrying a suicide belt under his coat. In fact, the witness told the court he had advised Azaria’s platoon commander to open fire on the terrorist on the ground should he appear to be trying to detonate a bomb.
A sapper who testified earlier for the defense was critical of the manner in which the terrorists were being handled, as the order to move their bodies was given before the sappers had a chance to examine them for hidden explosives.
Since much of the trial hinges on Sgt. Azaria’s state of mind, and whether or not he really believed the terrorist on the ground posed a danger after being neutralized, both testimonies have boosted the defense’s case.
Former MK Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beiteinu) has proven that everything people have been saying about the burgeoning Israeli rightwing majority whose power has only begun to be unleashed is absolutely true. Gal, who hosts a show on economics on rightwing TV Channel 20, found out that the attorneys for IDF medic Sergeant Elor Azaria had not been paid and that as a result the defense for the 19-year-old soldier was facing obvious difficulties, took to the crowdsourcing Headstart website where in about 12 hours he raised more than the needed amount — and the money is still pouring in.
Gal told the Headstart visitors — as of 10 AM Monday there were 3,297 donors who left the equivalent of $120,098.67 — that he will continue the collection to create a fund for future cases in which IDF soldiers who carry out righteous shoots against Arab terrorists are taken to court by their own army.
On March 24, which was also the holiday of Purim, Sergeant Azaria arrived on the scene of a terror stabbing outside the Jewish community of Hebron, where one stabber was dead and the other lay next to him on the ground. Azaria shot the second terrorist dead, an act that would have at most resulted in a disciplinary hearing within his military unit, but, an Arab B’Tselem employee was on hand to document the event and the video went viral. This resulted in the entire military apparatus becoming prosecutor, judge and executioner of the exemplary soldier, who received official recognition as Outstanding Fighter. From the defense minister down, they all condemned the yet to be investigated act. And so, rather than receiving a slap on the wrist, Azaria faced a murder charge, which was later reduced—under pressure from an outraged public—to manslaughter.
The trial is in full swing these days in a military court in Jaffa, and the Azaria family was running out of funds fast. At which point their countrymen took out their credit cards and gave and gave.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Office responded that “Azaria is an IDF soldier who is entitled to a fair trial. Despite the fact that he had the option of taking a military defender for free, he opted to take a civilian attorney.”
Of course, the military prosecution did exactly the same thing: preferring not to rely on their home-grown talent, the prosecution conscripted one of Israel’s top litigators, Nadav Weisman, to lead its team, so, to play fair, the IDF should have paid for the defendant’s outside legal help, too. But the IDF spokesperson had nothing to say about that.
Political activist Baruch Marzel is identified strongly with the radical rightwing in Israel. He even ran for the Knesset on the extreme rightwing party Otzma LeYisrael list and has been visible in its many events of political street theater during the last election and the elections before that. After the medic Sergeant Elor Azaria had shot dead a terrorist who was already lying on the ground, “neutralized,” in Hebron last Purim, Marzel reportedly shook the shooter’s hand. Marzel also told anyone who would have cared to listen at the time that security forces were keeping him and other civilians away from the stabbing site where two terrorists were under guard, meaning there was fear one of them could blow himself up.
Ma’ariv reporter Kalman Liebskind noted on Saturday that there’s no doubt Baruch Marzel believed Azaria’s shooting was justified, surely on ideological grounds but also, it appears, based on the IDF rules of engagement. So how come, asks Liebskind, Military Police never took down Marzel’s testimony? Does it mean the MPs were only soliciting testimonies that fit an already preconceived theory on the shooting? It’s starting to look that way, Liebskind argues.
The most disturbing point about the Azaria episode is the counter-intuitive behavior of the IDF brass. One would have thought that in the case of an excellent soldier with a perfect record such as Sergeant Azaria, the IDF would be invested in finding him not guilty. But the fact is that the IDF prosecution is invested not only in finding him guilty, but in having him suffer humiliating conditions through the process, and associating him with political interests that he is not remotely connected to. And to make sure they find him guilty, the military prosecution conscripted one of Israel’s top litigators, Nadav Weisman, to lead its team.
So why are so many top officers and politicians, including the IDF chief of staff, the IDF spokesperson, and the former defense minister, so invested in giving the IDF a bad name should the court decide against Sergeant Azaria? Is it because they committed themselves early on to the B’Tselem version of events, based on a video, smeared a soldier’s name in public, accusing him of murder — and now they’ll look bad should he be found not guilty?
“The situation we’re in, with IDF and security apparatus senior officials who are crossing their fingers and praying for the conviction of the soldier and for a ruling that the terrorist was eliminated in an illegal manner — this might be the real story,” writes Liebskind.
Last Thursday, Azaria’s company commander Major Tom Naaman testified against him. There’s no doubt that his testimony did not help the defendant’s case. But then Israeli media began to report a huge incitement campaign against Naaman, complete with death threats. This incitement story was then repeated like a mantra by politicians, until eventually it became an established fact — the brave officer who dared testify against the shooter Azaria is now in fear for his life because of the thousands of rightwing hooligans looking to get even with him.
The only problem with this story is that it never actually happened. The website Perspectiva contacted the two biggest social network monitoring companies in Israel, which showed that on Facebook there had been only 100 large scale group discussions of the testimony, of which 68 were critical. Altogether, over the entire period there were 4,400 entries online mentioning Naaman’s name, out of which 1,500 used blunt language that could be described as crossing a red line. This out of 3.3 million daily entries on Facebook in Israel.
When former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon attacked Sergeant Azaria, he was vilified in 1,600 group conversations per day, and when President Rivlin spoke at a Breaking the Silence gathering in New York he was the subject of 1,000 daily hostile large-scale conversations online. The response to the company commander’s testimony was truly puny in comparison — but the powers that be in Israel’s politics and media needed a witch hunt against him, so a witch hunt they reported.
It was also an opportunity for Kfir Brigade commander, Col. Guy Hazut, and other senior officers to tell the media they supported Major Naaman, who stands alone against the mob of rightwing thugs — never mind that they are imaginary.
“Imagine what goes on inside the head of a soldier who is supposed to testify in this trial and wishes to support [the defendant] Azaria’s version,” writes Liebskind. “He has to be nuts to do it. He knows his testimony would contradict the testimony of his company commander, that it would show up the chief of staff, that it negates the perception of his brigade commander. Can anyone take seriously any of the testimonies in this case?”
Finally, Liebskind compares the two testimonies given by Major Naaman. In the first one, shortly after the shooting, Naaman repeats the very same answer: “I approached the soldier, asked him why he did it, and he said he saw [the terrorist] move.” Naaman later the same day told the MPs, “When I asked Elor after the event, on the side, what happened, he told me he saw him moving and that’s why he shot.” The MP investigator asked him, “In your opinion, did Elor feel danger from the terrorists who were lying down?” and Naaman responded, “I don’t know. I don’t think so, maybe he saw him moving and got scared.”
One night later, with the media circus celebrating all around the episode, Naaman gave a second testimony, and the version he had repeated four times, about Azaria telling him he had seen the terrorist, vanished. Instead, Naaman shared that Azaria told him the terrorist “needed to die.”
Two days later, Naaman gave yet another testimony, and now he told investigators: “I asked him why he did it and he told me, this terrorist is alive and he needs to die.”
When Azaria’s attorneys asked Naaman in court which of his testimonies they should go with, did the terrorist move, didn’t he, Naaman answered, “Now I don’t recall exactly.”
Needless to say, Liebskind does not believe it is possible for the court to make a reliable ruling with this much pollution surrounding the testimonies.
President of the Military Court, Colonel Maya Heller, on Sunday decided to approve the defense request in Sgt. Elor Azaria’s trial, and recuse one of the judges on the panel, Israeli media reported. The defense argued that the judge is on friendly terms with Hebron Brigade commander, Colonel Yariv Ben Ezra. The defense attorneys said they did not doubt the military judge’s honesty, but wanted to avoid a conflict of interest nevertheless. They won the round and will start the proceedings with a point advantage.
The trial of IDF medic Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot dead a stabbing terrorist who was already on the ground, is scheduled to start on Monday in a military court in Jaffa with much less media attention than the case received back in March, when the military prosecutor was still hell-bent on charging Azaria with murder. Many Israelis were irate at the sheer injustice of the idea and the widespread protests convinced Prime Minister Netanyahu that his defense minister was pushing him off a cliff with his newly found, left-leaning political posturing. The case, which would have ended with a disciplinary hearing had an Arab B’Tselem cameraman not immortalized the episode, was downgraded last month to manslaughter and misconduct, as well as defying the rules of engagement without operational justification. Netanyahu, who met with Azaria’s father to reassure him his son is in good hands, has meanwhile fired Moshe Ya’alon, his pesky defense minister, reducing further the chances for collateral damage to Netanyahu from the trial come the next elections.
This is a do or die case for the military prosecution, which has taken its share of lumps so far. Its requests to remand Azaria to prison until the end of his trial was rejected, and he is free to walk around his unit’s base, just not go out. Except that the prosecution also lost its demand that he not be allowed to join his family seder at home. He did, with the court’s blessing. And so, feeling understandably wobbly on its feet, the military prosecution decided to enlist attorney Nadav Weisman, a renowned litigator and senior partner in the biggest law firm in Israel, Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal.
Making star attorney Weisman the litigator means the prosecution is going for broke. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) in early May demanded clarifications from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot about the army conscripting a ringer for this match, among other things — how much was this costing the IDF?
From its show of zeal, it’s obvious the prosecution does not plan to offer Azaria a plea bargain, which should have been the easiest and least painful solution to everyone involved. A plea would have meant that the case would eventually disappear from memory, making room for newer attacks on Israel and the IDF. Dragging the case in court will have the opposite effect, keeping the gory details in the news: was the terrorist on the ground moving? Was Azaria justified? Why didn’t he call out an alert? It will also, inevitably, reveal that the majority of Israelis believe that a terrorist who picks up a knife and goes about stabbing Israelis should be certain of being killed. It’s like the death penalty, but cheaper and faster. It’s a perfectly reasonable sentiment, but do we want it debated on the BBC every night? Hardly. Now, however, thanks to a few wounded prosecutors’ egos, the tired topic of “it all started when Israel retaliated” will be king once more on the world’s stages.
It is funny, though, one must admit, to prosecute a soldier for killing a terrorist. Richard Goldstone, you have taught us so much…
The Jaffa Military Court heard on Monday the indictment against Sergeant Elor Azarya who is charged with manslaughter and inappropriate behavior, and the court President, Colonel Maya Heller, suggested the prosecution and the defense seek mediation. The prosecution objected. Still, the court gave the two sides until the end of the week to consider this option.
Common sense suggests that if the court gives the two sides this opening to bargain the case down from manslaughter—a felony, to misdemeanor, it is because the court does not believe the prosecution is able to prove a felony and would like to spare them the embarrassment. But the prosecution is going for broke, and has even conscripted a top attorney, Nadav Weissman, “one of the most talented litigators involved today in many of the highest profile litigation cases in Israel,” to take down the young medic.
Azarya’s attorneys are also reluctant to cop a plea, because they believe the prosecution’s own files contain all the evidence they need to acquit their client.
Incidentally, the conscripted attorney has complained through his attorneys about the prosecution’s shoddy job of preparing the evidence in the case, and they also noted for the record that they can point to precedence where the most the accused soldier received was disciplinary action.
Indeed, disciplinary action was all the medic Azarya’s commanding officers were going to do, if that, until they got the call from the defense ministry about the B’Tselem video which supposedly proves hands down that the killing of the terrorist was an act of murder.
The defendant’s attorneys are accusing the army of running a show trial for the benefit of the political echelon, namely Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, not the most popular man in most Israeli households these days, most notably in his own Likud party. The majority of Israelis in several recent polls believe there should have been no prosecution at all in the case.
Much of the prosecution’s case hinges on the state of mind of the accused during the shooting, namely how much he knew about the neutralizing of the terrorist and the verification that followed his neutralizing. Since he arrived some ten minutes after the incident, the fact that the verification process had been proper may not matter if the defense can establish that the accused was not aware of it, and estimated the terrorist to still be dangerous.
The case will also revolve around the application of the rules of engagement in cases where a suicide bomb is suspected. The prosecution will bring witnesses who will tell the court there hadn’t been any suicide bombers in the entire six months of a terror wave leading up to the shooting. But that may not matter in establishing the state of mind of the accused or the validity of the rules of engagement that include an expectation of a suicide bomb.
IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, speaking at a commemoration of the Holocaust, said he sees in today’s Israel evidence of events that took place in Europe before the Holocaust. The ceremony, at the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak, included dignitaries like Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), who were visibly unhappy with what the man who could some day lead the Jewish Army thought about his subordinates.
Maj. Gen. Golan, who is the child of a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis, said that what truly frightens him in recalling the Holocaust is to identify the same blood curdling processes that took place in Germany and in the rest of Europe “70, 80, and 90 years ago, and discovering evidence of their taking place here, among us, in 2016.”
Golan summed up the characteristics he found in both pre-Holocaust Europe and in 2016 Israel as follows: hatred of foreigners, fear mongering, brutalization, rhinocerization and self-righteousness. The one before last term refers to the 1959 play Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco, a Romanian exile in Paris, who explains Nazism and Fascism in a satirical tale of a small, provincial French town whose people turn into rhinoceroses.
The Golan statement goes to show that being the child of a Holocaust survivor does not automatically qualify one to be able to make convincing analogies between the state-organized, industrialized slaughter of six million Jews and what amounts to 150 years of a difficult relationship between neighbors in Israel. The comparison, inaugurated by the late professor of chemistry and ingenious commentator on Jewish law and Jewish history, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who coined the term Judonazis, has been rejected with contempt by many Israelis, most notably the late Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin:
In 1993, Prof. Leibowitz was selected for the highest national award, the Israel Prize. Before the award ceremony, Leibowitz was invited to speak to the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, where his controversial remarks calling upon Israeli soldiers to refuse orders triggered outrage, and PM Yitzhak Rabin threatened to boycott the Israel Prize ceremony. The IP jury convened to withdraw the award from the provocative and intentionally nasty professor, but Leibowitz quickly announced that he would refuse to accept the prize, taking charge of his own public execution.
Maj. Gen. Golan on Wednesday night may have walked into his own public execution, which explains why he and the IDF spokesperson’s office and Army Radio have been swimming the backstroke all of Thursday trying to persuade a livid nation that the deputy chief did not mean the IDF was starting to look like the Wehrmacht.
So, here is what the man next in line to lead the IDF said about the IDF (translated from the full text of his speech, courtesy of Ha’aretz):
Saying that Holocaust Memorial Day must also be a day of national reckoning, Golan suggested such reckoning must include “unsettling phenomena.” Referring to the public debate over the purity of the weapon (a uniquely Israeli term, dating back to the pre-state years, meaning when Jews use their weapons they must do so ethically), he said he wished to comment on the matter.
The most notable “unsettling phenomenon” Golan was citing had taken place on Purim day, when two Arab terrorists stabbed an IDF soldier in the neck at a check post outside Hebron in Judea. The force at the site shot down both terrorists, killing one and neutralizing the other. About ten minutes after the incident, a 19-year-old medic who served with the same unit showed up to help treat the stabbed soldier, and was documented by a B’Tselem video as he shot dead the terrorist who was still living, who was lying on the ground. The IDF and the Defense Ministry reacted at lightening-speed to the video, turning what would have probably resulted in a disciplinary action, if at all, into a murder investigation. The sheer audacity of the military prosecution in attempting to pin a murder charge (which has now been reduced to manslaughter) on a combat soldier aroused a groundswell of popular protest, the likes of which Israel’s security apparatus brass had rarely faced before; and the protest also served to enhance the demarcation between left and right, Zionist and anti-Zionist, ruling elites and everyone else in Israel. When you read Maj. Gen. Golan’s notes below, keep all of that in mind as the subtext.
“Irregular use of weapons, and damage to the purity of the weapon have taken place in the IDF since its founding,” Golan conceded, adding, “The pride of the IDF has always been in our ability to investigate difficult incidents, without bias, to bravely investigate problematic behavior, and to accept full responsibility for the good but also for the bad and the unlawful. We didn’t justify, we didn’t hide, we didn’t paint over, we didn’t wink, we didn’t roll up our eyes to the heavens, we also didn’t make excuses. Our path has been and will continue to be the path of truth and accepting responsibility, even when the truth is hard to take and the responsibility heavy. We believe in the righteousness of our path — but not everything we do is righteous. We trust the morality of the IDF as an institution, but we do not overlook the exceptions. We demand of our soldiers precisely what we demand of ourselves, and we insist that being a personal example be second nature to every commander.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett issued a tweet saying, “One minute before the Holocaust deniers turn these erroneous words into a flag, one minute before our soldiers are compared to Nazis, God forbid, with approval from the brass, [we say] the deputy chief of staff made a mistake and he must correct it at once.”
The IDF released a statement saying, “The Deputy Chief Of Staff wishes to clarify that he had no intention of comparing the IDF and the State of Israel with events that took place in Germany 70 years ago. The comparison is absurd and utterly groundless, and there was no intent to create such a comparison, nor to criticize the political echelon. The IDF is a moral army which observes the purity of the weapon and the dignity of man.”
But, of course, he did just that, he compared the IDF and the State of Israel with events that took place in Germany 70 years ago — in fact, that very reference is a quote from his speech, spoken with a self-righteous tone reserved to the members of the ruling elite when they describe the plebeian masses who foolishly fail to adhere to the wisdom and moral uprightness garnered by decades of being in charge.
Come to think of it, the Golan speech was the perfect analogy for the decadence, hatred of foreigners, fear mongering, brutalization, rhinocerization and self-righteousness — of Israel’s Jewish left, and Holocaust Memorial Day was the perfect time for such an analogy.
The fact that a man who compares his subordinates to Nazis may be considered to replace the current chief of staff, who, for his part, has told the nation that the rabbinic principle of “He who rises to kill you, kill him first” is merely a metaphor and not a moral principle; and that both men are commanded by a Defense Minister who keeps Jews in prison for many months without charges, and uses brute force to evict Jewish dwellers from their homes — while permitting widespread illegal Arab dwellings — those are crucial lessons Jews must learn and absorb, lest we are tempted to believe that what followed the Nazi Holocaust was a full Jewish liberation.
There’s still a whole lot more liberation left to be done.
Hillary and Bernie locked horns, clashed, yelled and smashed into each other almost literally last night in Brooklyn, NY. There were cheap shots and there were deep cuts. It can be safely said that the behavioral gap between the Democratic and Republican debates have narrowed significantly, so neither side can claim the high ground any longer. As to the portion of the debate in which we were most interested, US-Israeli relations, we must agree Hillary made us feel a little safer. Sanders started off from the point of view of B’Tselem and J Street, while Hillary at this point is a little to the right of J Street. After last night’s debate, if you’re a Democrat who cares about Israel, we advise you to buy an industrial size laundry clip, put it on your nose and vote for Bill’s wife. Not because we endorse her, we really really don’t, but she scares us a little less than Bernie does.
And now, to what they actually said last night about how they’d like to finally bring peace to the region…
Blitzer: Senator, let’s talk about the U.S. relationship with Israel. Senator Sanders, you maintained that Israel’s response in Gaza in 2014 was, quote, “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life.”
What do you say to those who believe that Israel has a right to defend itself as it sees fit?
Sanders: Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate.
But — but what you just read, yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.
Heckler: Free Palestine!
Sanders: Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was, and let me say something else.
Sanders: And, let me say something else. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run — and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.
Sanders: So what is not to say — to say that right now in Gaza, right now in Gaza unemployment is s somewhere around 40%. You got a log of that area continues, it hasn’t been built, decimated, houses decimated health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people.
That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I think…
Blitzer: … Thank you, Senator…
Sanders: …to an approach that works in the Middle East.
Blitzer: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, do you agree with Senator Sanders that Israel overreacts to Palestinians attacks, and that in order for there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel must, quote, end its disproportionate responses?
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Clinton: I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012. I did it in concert with…
Clinton: President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet. I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages.
They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn’t find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.
So, I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself.
That does not mean — that does not mean that you don’t take appropriate precautions. And, I understand that there’s always second guessing anytime there is a war. It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and…
Blitzer: … Thank you…
Clinton: … just let me finish. The rights and the autonomy that they deserve. And, let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years.
Blitzer: Thank you, Senator, go ahead — go ahead, Senator.
Sanders: I don’t think that anybody would suggest that Israel invites and welcomes missiles flying into their country. That is not the issue.
And, you evaded the answer. You evaded the question. The question is not does Israel have a right to respond, nor does Israel have a right to go after terrorists and destroy terrorism. That’s not the debate. Was their response disproportionate?
I believe that it was, you have not answered that.
Clinton: I will certainly be willing to answer it. I think I did answer it by saying that of course there have to be precautions taken but even the most independent analyst will say the way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible.
I’m not saying it’s anything other than terrible. It would be great — remember, Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people.
Clinton: And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza.
So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.
Blitzer: Thank you, Secretary.
Sanders: I read Secretary Clinton’s statement speech before AIPAC. I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people. Almost none in that speech.
Sanders: So here is the issue: of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but long-term there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people.
That is what I believe the world wants to us do and that’s the kind of leadership that we have got to exercise.
Clinton: Well, if I — I want to add, you know, again describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it. And I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband’s efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I’m the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel.
There were only four of us in the room, Netanyahu, Abbas, George Mitchell, and me. Three long meetings. And I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians.
I was absolutely focused on what we needed to do to make sure that the Palestinian people had the right to self-government. And I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel’s security.
Blitzer: A final word, Senator, go ahead.
Sanders: There comes a time — there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.
Clinton: … you know, I have spoken about and written at some length the very candid conversations I’ve had with him and other Israeli leaders. Nobody is saying that any individual leader is always right, but it is a difficult position.
If you are from whatever perspective trying to seek peace, trying to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist, that is a very difficult challenge.
Blitzer: Senator, go ahead.
Sanders: You gave a major speech to AIPAC, which obviously deals with the Middle East crisis, and you barely mentioned the Palestinians. And I think, again, it is a complicated issue and God knows for decades presidents, including President Clinton and others, Jimmy Carter and others have tried to do the right thing.
All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.