Attorney General Orders Investigation Into Threats Against Army Chief at Azaria Protest

Protesters chanted thinly-veiled death threats against Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot during trial of Hebron shooter Azaria. Meanwhile, Supreme Court president warns attacks against judges endanger Israeli democracy.

Supporters of soldier Elor Azaria protest on his behalf outside the military court in Tel Aviv on the day of the verdict, January 4, 2017.
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has instructed police to open an investigation into suspicions of incitement to violence following a protest in support of soldier Elor Azaria on Wednesday while his verdict was being issued.

Some protesters outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv were heard chanting thinly-veiled death threats against the army's chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot. "Gadi watch out, Rabin is looking for a friend," they chanted, hinting at the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Justice Ministry said that Mendelblit "reiterates that there is no room for incitement, whether against judges, IDF officers or any members of the law enforcement community. Law enforcement authorities will act take uncompromising and determined action against calls to incitement to violence and racism."

Meanwhile, the president of Israel's Supreme Court came out in defense of the judges who convicted Azaria, after they have been threatened due to their ruling on Wednesday. 

Calling the attacks on the judges a "danger to the rule of law and democracy," Justice Miriam Naor said in a statement: "Without of course taking any stand on the legal verdict, we fully condemn a blatant attack such as we are now witness to, which has no place in any proper society."

Israeli Supreme Court President Miriam Naor.
Olivier Fitoussi

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"Substantive criticism of a verdict is of course legitimate, but the assaults taking place these days have violated the limits of legitimate dialogue, and pose a danger to the rule of law and democracy." 

Azaria, who shot dead a prone Palestinian assailant in March, was found guilty of manslaughter on Wednesday. Sentencing in the case will proceed before the three-judge military court panel that convicted him.

The case has polarized Israel. Security for the judges has been stepped up in light of the passions that Azaria’s conviction has engendered among parts of the public. When Wednesday’s proceedings concluded, the military prosecutor in the case, Lt. Col. (Res.) Nadav Weisman, was also provided a security detail.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said officers had arrested a man in Jerusalem and a woman in the southern town of Kiryat Gat whose social media comments constituted "incitement to violence" against the judges.

Several Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have voiced their support for pardoning Azaria.

Lieberman versus Bennett

Earlier Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he expected politicians to restrain themselves or “keep quiet” about Azaria, and sharply criticized Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s call to pardon the soldier.

“The education minister should at least know to read the law – the law is very clear,” Lieberman said in an interview with Army Radion. “The only ones who are allowed to ask [for a pardon] are the offender himself, his attorney and his immediate family. That’s the law. It’s very dry, very clearall the slogans we’re hearing at the moment from this or that minister are slogans for their own sake, not for Elor Azaria. They aren’t taking care of Elor Azaria, they are taking care of themselves,” he said.

Bennett retorted sharply to Lieberman in an interview of his own on Army Radio, proposing that Lieberman learn to count, an allusion to the fact that before Lieberman became defense minister, he said he would give Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh a 48-hour ultimatum to return the bodies held there of Israeli soldiers. “I’m not sure that on the subject of combat in the field I would take lessons from Lieberman. I heard that he’s sending me to learn to read. I propose he learn to count, for example up to 48 hours,” Bennett said. “The president has the authority to grant a pardon at any point in time,” he added.