Right-wing Politicians Call to Pardon Israeli Soldier for Deadly Shooting of Palestinian Attacker

Only President Rivlin could pardon Azaria, after a potentially lengthy process including political opinions from several other officials.

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria is embraced by his mother at the start of is sentencing hearing at a military court in Tel Aviv, Israel February 21, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

Right-wing politicians reacted Tuesday to the 1.5-year prison sentence handed to Israeli soldier Elor Azaria for killing a wounded and immobilized Palestinian attacker, saying that he should be pardoned.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called  for the pardon of Elor Azaria. "Israel's security demands he be pardoned. Elor was sent to protect Israelis at the height of a wave of Palestinian terror attacks. He cannot go to jail or we will all pay the price."

Culture Minister Miri Regev said it was a "sad" and "difficult" day, adding that "Elor should not sit a single day in prison beyond the time he has already served." She blasted the sentence as a "continuation of the field court-martial that it was the this trial," which she said should not have taken place as a criminal proceeding. "But as we have reached this difficult day, I ask the IDF chief of staff to pardon Elor."

However, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman fell short of calling for a pardon, and said instead that everyone must respect the verdict and the sentence, adding "that the army must also support Azaria and his family." The defense minister said that "on the one hand there is an excellent soldier, on the other a terrorist who came to kill Jews, and we need to take both of these into account."

Azaria was convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing Abdel Fatah al-Sharif in May, 2016, after the Palestinian had attacked Israeli soldiers who shot and wounded him.

To be considered for a pardon, Azaria will have to submit a detailed request to the president. In addition, before the president makes his decision, the IDF chief of staff, the chief military prosecutor, the head of the military personnel directorate and the defense minister would have to submit their legal opinions, a process that may take some time. President Reuven Rivlin said in the past that "we have the best commanders, a standout chief of staff, and we need to listen to them and accept their decisions."

Interior Ministry Arye Dery also responded to the ruling, saying "Azaria is worthy of a pardon to put his life back in order and to put this divisive incident that tears all of us up behind him."

From the other side of the political aisle, MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List), said that, "The sentence doesn't reflect the severity of the act and it sends a hard message that the blood of a Palestinian is worthless. Azaria's case is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger phenomenon in the army supported by polticians."

Jabareen said that he had asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit a month ago to open an investigation against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his comments supporting a pardon for Azaria. "I stressed that Netanyahu's comments create suspicion of obstruction of justice."

Opposition chairman MK Isaac Herzog said Azaria was a "victim of impossible diplomatic circumstances. The government, defense minister, IDF and defense officials must now work to prevent the next such incident."

MK Yair Lapid, who heads the centrists Yesh Atid party, said politicians should not intervene in the military court's proceedings and voiced his support for the IDF chief of staff and the army court, both of which have been criticized by Azaria supporters, sparking fears of violence.