Whoever adds, detracts

A special column by Israeli journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir discusses Elor Azariya and the late Yaakov Neeman. Translated by Shoshana Silver.

Sivan Rahav-Meir ,

Sivan Rahav meir
Sivan Rahav meir
צילום: פלאש 90


Every additional word written about Elor Azariya causes us damage. Not him, us. He was not the only one who lost the case, we did as well.

The discussion about him got completely blown out of proportion, from both left and right. Let’s get things straight: It was a localized error of a soldier in the field. The story should have ended the day it began – in a disciplinary court and with disciplinary action.

That would have been enough to convey a clear message that the IDF is an ethical army that doesn’t operate like a gang of hoodlums. That’s it. Elor is neither a hero nor a murderer. He made a mistake. Instead of saying just that, we blew the whole incident up and it turned into a long, excessively and superfluously media-covered trial.

It’s true that Elor got stressed out there in an alley in Hevron, but after the episode we all got stressed out too: Defense Minister Ya’alon got stressed out and immediately distanced himself from a soldier in the field so soon after the incident. Netanyahu got stressed out when he saw which way the winds were blowing and decided to call Elor’s father. And the Azariya family got stressed out, understandably so, and allowed “advisors” to confuse them, to turn Elor into a symbol and thereby get him even more entangled both legally and publicly.

And the general public – still enamored by the wonders of social media which finally enable them to tell the people in the studios exactly what they think – took full advantage of this opportunity once again and not only did they do it with great intensity but they also took it to an extreme. Like Roman Zadorov and Shai Chai from Big Brother, an army of advocates for Elor’s cause emerged on Facebook.

I have what to say on the matter, but like I said, whoever adds, detracts. This wound needs to heal as quickly as possible. The question now is how not to open the next wound. What will happen the next time a combat soldier gets confused mid-battle with a terrorist? Will he get support from his officer? Will he admit his mistake or make up fictitious versions of what happened? Will we be able to prevent a legal ‘show’ replete with experts and spokesmen, and will we succeed in not turning him into a symbol and not putting all of Israel’s dilemmas on his shoulders?


Now on to two important remarks about the current public discourse. Average media consumers are used to thinking that G-d works for Bin Laden. That ardent belief – both Muslim and Jewish – is fanatic, violent and dangerous. Belief in G-d is usually presented as a problem, not a solution. Believers are usually photographed from a distance making them appear as a unified community, foreign and strange. They are interesting only when something scandalous occurs which can entertain or anger whoever is observing them from the outside. That’s why the other and obvious alternative is sarcastic secularism, the kind the media indeed promotes in most of its programs and commercials. Can this change? Don’t we deserve a more mature and sophisticated outlook on life?

A week ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted the following: Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah…I hope you're surrounded by friends and loved ones, and that you have a chance to reflect on all the meaningful things in your life…May the light of your friendships continue to brighten your life and our entire world.” In response to this festive post, someone asked him: “Aren’t you an atheist?” Zuckerberg answered: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important." This answer, by the way, got 7,128 likes and started a lively discussion between him and his cyber friends. And by the way, there are some who will claim that Zuckerberg himself is the head of the biggest religion in the world. But a declaration by an influential, assimilated Jew that he is no longer an atheist is not unimportant.

A few days earlier, the executive editor of the New York Times was interviewed. For the first time the editor of this prestigious newspaper, whose offices are on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, is an Afro-American by the name of Dean Baquet. In an interview he gave after Trump’s victory (which was also a defeat for the paper), he said that the journalists who work for him and in other media find it hard to understand the role that religion plays in people’s lives.

He added that one of his goals after the elections is “to make sure that we are much more creative about beats out in the country so that we understand that anger and disconnectedness that people feel…I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too, probably, media powerhouses don't quite get religion. We don't get the role of religion in people's lives. And I think we can do much, much better.”

This is part of a broad discussion in the American media about the way it functioned during the elections. Immediately after the results were published, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the New York Times, a Jew of course, wrote to his readers that it was a time for deep introspection in order to clarify where they went wrong. His executive editor defined this in an interview he gave like this: “I now have two big jobs. Big job one is to cover the most compelling and unusual president we have had in my lifetime. Big job two is to really understand and explain the forces in America that led to Americans wanting a change so much that they were willing to select such a different figure for the White House.”

This is true for the media in Israel as well, which time after time gets very low marks when it comes to the public’s faith in them. Instead of investing time and energy in pre-election surveys and statistics, it’s worth cultivating a deeper and more respectful approach to topics such as identity, patriotism, belief, prayer, community and G-d Himself. By the way, that also gets likes.


Monday, 12 noon. Heichal Shlomo, Jerusalem. Hundreds came to bid a final farewell to Yaakov Neeman z’l the lawyer, professor, government minister, CEO and adviser. He was someone whose name was always on the news from the time we were born – putting together a coalition agreement, representing senior officials with regard to the country’s economy or responsible for some reform. The weekly Torah portion, Vayigash, deals with the personality of Yaakov Aveinu (Jacob) and the tribe he left as his legacy and the connection to Yaakov Neeman’s tribe is obvious. One after the other, the children and one granddaughter spoke about the man behind the famous personality.

From the long list of eulogies, I took home with me two things that we can learn from him. The first – setting aside time for Torah study. Neeman knew how to put everything on hold in order to set aside time for learning in his packed daily schedule. Even the most senior minister knew that sometimes it was impossible to get hold of him because his cellphone was shut off and he was learning Torah. A young man came up to me at the end of the funeral and introduced himself to me as Aviad Korman. This is what he told me: “When I learned in the Hesder Yeshiva of Otniel he would sometimes come to learn with the younger guys, participate in classes, take a tray in the dining room and eat with everyone, and even clear away his dirty dishes afterwards. He would also travel on the van with the students coming from Jerusalem. We were surprised to see such an important figure who simply came to learn.”

And the second – sincerely devoting attention to each and every child and grandchild. Mid-day phone calls just to ask how they were doing. Making quality time for study, talk and travel – and again despite an extremely demanding and extensive schedule and an endless number of people who were always vying for his attention. The expression “setting aside time for Torah study” is well known but after the funeral I thought about another expression that should be added to our lexicon – setting aside time for family.

The column is from "Yedioth Aharonot" and was translated by Shoshana Silver. Sivan Rahav Meir is a broadcaster on Israel's Channel 2 news.