The keystone kops appeared in Hollywood movies during the silent film era. They were incompetent. They were a group of fictional policemen who couldn’t keep from stumbling over each other. They appeared in the years 1912-1917. Everyone laughed at them.
‘Fake news’ is also fiction. But it isn’t fiction-for-entertainment. Instead, it uses false claims to manipulate the public. It’s meant to mislead, not entertain.
‘Fake news’ and keystone kops are 100 years apart. They don’t normally appear in the same sentence. But Israel’s IDF is changing that—and the result isn’t funny.
Through a recent manslaughter verdict against one of its own--Sargent Elor Azariya—IDF leadership has used ‘fake news’ to protect that verdict. In the process, the IDF stops looking strong and competent. It becomes the keystone kops--frantic, confused and incompetent.
Consider the facts: four days after a Military Court found Sargent Azariya guilty of manslaughter for killing a wounded terrorist ‘without reason’ (an assertion that has outraged most Israelis), an Arab truck driver ran over and killed four IDF soldiers and wounded 16. Some in Israel suspected that soldiers at that attack had been afraid to shoot at the terrorist because of an ‘Azariya effect’--the fear of getting arrested for shooting (Ruthie Blum, “In Wake of Deadly Jerusalem Truck-Ramming Attack, Questions Arise About Soldiers’ ‘Reluctance’ to Shoot Terrorist”, algemeiner, Januray 8, 2017). The IDF reacted immediately by creating a ‘fake news’ report. It declared that no soldier was afraid to shoot (“Claims of hesitation to shoot terrorist in Jerusalem attack rejected by IDF”, i24news, January 9, 2017).
That ‘fake news’ report completely ignored the fact that Israelis had already seen a cctv video of the attack (“Video: security camera captures deadly Jerusalem truck attack”, jerusalempost, January 8, 2017). The video showed dozens of soldiers running away from the attack, not to it. The scene looked like a rout.
To make matters worse for the IDF, on the day (January 9, 2017) the IDF boasted that soldiers were not afraid to shoot a terrorist, some Israelis saw a French news report that said otherwise (“Attentat: un soldat hésitant avoue avoir été influencé par l’affaire Azaria”, lphinfo, January 9, 2017: I thank reader Edmond Richter for linking me to this report). This French report spoke of an IDF soldier at the scene who clearly stated he had hesitated to shoot. He was afraid of getting arrested. He didn’t want to become another ‘Azariya’. He’d fired only because his friends had been run over, not because he’d understood he had clearance to shoot. He’d shot despite the risks he ran.
How did the IDF react? The next day, January 10, it repeated its ‘fake news’ about fearless soldiers. The leader of the IDF Southern Command said, “Soldiers not affected by Azariya verdict'”, arutzsheva, January 10, 2017).
While this IDF ‘fake news’ about fearless IDF soldiers was repeating itself before an increasingly sceptical Israel, another fake story-line began to unravel. The story was, the IDF was offering a deal to Azariya: if he surrendered his right to appeal, he’d get a lighter sentence (“TV report: Hebron shooter to be offered reduced jail term if he drops appeal”, timesofisrael, January 7, 2017).
Three days later, another ‘deal’ report surfaced. This report said that the Colonel who commanded Azariya’s unit had visited the family (Mordecnai Sones, “Kfir Brigade Commander met with Charlie Azariya”, arutzsheva, January 10, 2017). He was said to offer what looked like an updated deal. If the Azariya family surrendered its intent to appeal, fired their son’s defense team and stopped talking to the public, their son might get a lighter sentence (ibid).
Azariya’s defense team reacted to this pressure-tactic with outrage. It denounced the ‘deal’ (Stuart Winer, “Elor Azaria’s attorneys slam IDF’s covert meeting with his father”, timesofisrael, January 11, 2017).
The IDF wouldn’t back down. It denied that any ‘deal’ had been discussed at the meeting. The purpose of this meeting, an IDF spokesperson said, was to discuss “financial and social assistance to the Azaria family” (Yoav Zitun, “Azaria was an outstanding soldier until the shooting, says prosecutor”, ynet, January 11, 2017).
But as always happens in a keystone kops movie, the IDF’s ‘fake news’ approach to the Azariya case blew up in its face. The day after the IDF issued its ‘fake news’ about the supposedly ‘benign’ nature of the meeting with the Azariya family, a tape recording of that meeting surfaced (Tal Polon, “'Open investigation against Kfir Commander over Azariya case'”, arutzsheva, January 12, 2017).
Guess what that recording revealed? The Colonel had indeed offered a ‘deal’. He had indeed pressured the family (ibid).
The IDF ‘fake news’ strategy to cover its behaviour in the Azariya case took a third big hit (the first was the cctv video of the truck attack; the second was the claim that a meeting with the family was only for financial and social ‘assistance’). The third hit focused on ‘fake news’ about the impact of the Azariya case on combat troops (Azariya was a combat soldier when arrested).
The ‘fake news’ angle here was an IDF claim that soldiers weren’t concerned about the effect of the Azariya ruling ("[IDF Major-General Eyal] Zamir: soldiers not concerned despite Azariya ruling", arutzsheva, January 10, 2017). That turns out to be more fakery. Two days after that ‘fake news’ ran, a report showed that a majority of combat soldiers in the IDF now believe that, because of what happened to Sargent Azariya, their own commanders would not back them up in case of an investigation (David Rosenberg, “Army report suggests morale declining among combat soldiers”, arutzsheva, January 12, 2017). As a result, IDF combat morale sinks (ibid).
IDF combat soldiers are very concerned about the Azariya ruling (ibid). They don’t like it—and their attitudes towards the IDF reflect that (ibid).
‘Fake news’ to manipulate public opinion after an outrageous Court verdict turns the IDF into the keystone kops. Simply put, the IDF can’t keep from stumbling over itself.
Like keystone kops, the Azariya affair makes the IDF look incompetent. The reason Azariya does this to the IDF is clear: the IDF should never have arrested Azariya. It should never have put him on trial. The Military Court should never have rejected every one of Azariya’s defences. It should never have accepted every one of the Prosecutor’s charges.
The IDF ‘Azariya behaviour’ reveals how completely out of touch the IDF is with the social contract it has with Jewish Israel (Caroline Glick, “The IDF’s new social contract”, frontpagemag, January 7, 2016). With Azariya, the IDF reveals that it isn’t led by pro-Israel men who believe in our presence on our own ancestral homeland. It’s led by people who don’t believe that a Jewish presence in Judea-Samaria must be protected and defended. It’s led by people who believe in the lie that Jews in Judea-Samaria live on stolen land. It’s led by people who would arrest and imprison its own soldiers to protect those in Judea-Samaria who want to murder us.
Hevron is where the Azaria incident took place. Hevron is in Judea-Samaria.
That’s why the IDF arrested Azariya: Hevron is a ‘hot’ zone where many Arab attacks have occurred. IDF leaders don’t care about their own soldiers. They care more about how our enemies think of us. They care more about showing our enemies how ‘fair’ we are.
This desire for ‘fairness’ reveals how an anti-Israel, pro-Arab ideology has taken root in the IDF high-command. The fact that the IDF had to resort to ‘fake news’ to protect its ‘fairness’ doctrine demonstrates two things: (1) IDF leadership never had a clue how damaging this affair is to its mission; and (2) IDF leadership has become so committed to a pro-Arab ideology that lies must be told to protect that ideology.
IDF combat soldiers know better. Their morale plummets.
IDF leadership, meanwhile, still thinks ‘fake news’ is what it needs to stay strong. No wonder that leadership looks like incompetent keystone kops.
These keystone kops should be replaced.