Published on November 20 in The Jerusalem Post
From time to time the question arises, why do we need a president? Maintaining the institution of the presidency costs taxpayers millions of shekels annually, claim critics. Unlike countries such as the US and Mexico, where the president is directly elected by the people and serves as the executive power, Israel has a parliamentary system, and the president is essentially a figurehead with few powers. Calls to do away with the presidency strengthened in the wake of president Moshe Katsav’s conviction for rape.
On Sunday, the nation was reminded why we need a president. In two separate and unconnected pardon decisions, President Reuven Rivlin demonstrated both moral courage and sensitivity.
In the case of Yonatan Hailu, who was convicted of murdering Yaron Eileen in Netanya in 2010, Rivlin took into consideration the fact that Hailu claimed he had been raped by Eileen twice and that he feared he would be raped a third time. Further strengthening Hailu’s claim was Eileen’s criminal past, which included the sexual molestation of a minor. The rape claim also explains why Hailu mutilated Eileen’s sexual organ after murdering him.
In contrast, Rivlin rejected the pardon request made by “Hebron shooter” Elor Azaria, arguing that the military court that found him guilty had already taken into consideration Azaria’s excellent military record. The court also found him guilty of manslaughter, not murder, despite suspicions Azaria’s shooting was premeditated and was not motivated by concern that he and others were endangered by the incapacitated terrorist.
That is why it is important for the president to remind us that it is not the role of the soldier to take the law into his or her hands. Someone must stand up for the military court and the chief of staff, who believe that strict adherence to rules of engagement provide the discipline and order that are the basis for any effective armed force. The ethical principles laid out in the IDF’s Code of Ethics that restrict the use of lethal force to cases of self-defense are not just flowery words. They provide the IDF with the moral legitimacy to wage wars. These principles enable the left-wing kibbutznik and the right-wing settler to join forces under a shared moral code.
If the presidency exists for no reason other than to remind us of this, it is sufficient.
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