Netanyahu Mulled Hosting Parents of Soldier Charged With Hebron Manslaughter

Sgt. Elor Azaria is on trial in military court for shooting a Palestinian assailant who was already wounded on the ground.

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Elor Azaria, a soldier charged with manslaughter after shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head, in military court on June 16, 2016.
Elor Azaria, a soldier charged with manslaughter after shooting a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head, in military court on June 16, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

At the height of the furor over the soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian assailant in Hebron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered inviting the soldier’s parents to his official residence in Jerusalem.

But then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon convinced Netanyahu to shelve the idea out of fears that support for Sgt. Elor Azaria and criticism of defense officials would hurt him politically, political sources say.

“Fortunately we managed to convince him to not to arrange the visit,” an associate of Netanyahu said.

For its part, the Prime Minister’s Office said Thursday: “The issue was not on the agenda. It came up as an idea among the prime minister’s people and was removed from the agenda just as fast.”

Still, a few days later Netanyahu made a phone call to the soldier’s father.

Azaria is on trial for manslaughter in military court for shooting Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron on March 24 after al-Sharif had stabbed an Israeli soldier.

At the time of the incident, the army’s approach was clear: The soldier made a serious moral and professional error, his action did not represent the Israel Defense Forces’ values, and he would be investigated and punished accordingly.

Under pressure from Ya’alon, Netanyahu made a similar announcement. But Avigdor Lieberman, now the defense minister but then in the opposition, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett quickly supported the soldier and attacked Ya’alon’s approach, rattling the prime minister, political sources say.

When Netanyahu heard that Bennett had spoken several times to Azaria’s father and saw Lieberman appearing in the military court alongside the family, the atmosphere at the prime minister’s residence changed.

The idea came up to invite Azaria’s parents to a meeting with Netanyahu and his wife Sara; it would be a gesture from the parents of one soldier to the parents of another. Initial contacts with the family about an invitation were made.

Netanyahu reportedly believed that the mothers of soldiers and Israelis in general were upset about the treatment of the soldier. A meeting with the parents would repair the damage.

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