Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz on Wednesday expressed reservations about the calls from coalition colleagues to grant an immediate pardon to soldier Elor Azaria, who was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months’ imprisonment for shooting an immobilized Palestinian assailant to death in Hebron last year.
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Steinitz noted that “Many politicians gave legitimacy to the attacks on and condemnations of the judges and the military court system,” he told Israel Radio. Azaria’s lawyer, Ilan Katz, told Army Radio that if there’s a chance of making the soldier’s sentence more lenient, the defense team might not appeal.
In an interview with Yaakov Ahimeir, Steinitz said, “I object to the calls by some of my colleagues in the coalition and even the opposition to immediate clemency. What happened to you? You don’t understand the need to defend the IDF? The IDF’s chain of command? That you can’t give legitimacy to every soldier who decides [things] for himself?”
The minister added that although he identifies with the soldier and his family, the values of the Israel Defense Forces must be upheld. “We cannot let terrorists bring down our moral values or turn the IDF into a militia,” he said, adding, “When we preserve the IDF’s values we are protecting our soldiers and commanders.”
Steintiz added, “From the start, many politicians unfortunately called to cancel the trial or to grant an immediate pardon, and some, with their hints, even gave legitimacy to attacks and condemnations of the judges and the military court system.”
When Azaria’s attorney was asked by Army Radio if the defense team intended to appeal the soldier’s sentence, Katz replied, “What we’re focused on is that Elor come out of this awful case in the best possible way. If on the other side of the phone we get a suggestion that will make it better for Elor, all options are open.”
As Haaretz reported yesterday, despite the declaration by Azaria’s attorneys that they were preparing to appeal and had almost finished writing it, the defense team is not of one mind on this, with some believing it would be a mistake that will hurt the soldier in the end.
Katz said the Azaria family, who will ultimately determine whether to file an appeal, is still on an emotional roller coaster about the prison sentence. “But on the other hand they well understand that relative to the draconian statements made in the verdict, it’s a lenient punishment,” the attorney said.
Katz said that from the start of the legal proceedings, the defense team was willing to come to understandings with the prosecution and go to mediation on the issue, but the military prosecutor refused. “If I had known it was possible to improve Elor’s situation of course that would have been my unequivocal recommendation to Charlie Azaria, and if I know that there’s no willingness to come to some arrangement then of course I will tell Charlie Azaria to appeal,” he said.