(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Sgt. Elor Azaria, the soldier who shot a subdued Palestinian terrorist in the head in Hebron in March, should be pardoned if convicted by a military court, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said on Saturday night.
Bennett said he supports a pardon for Azaria, because it is important to back soldiers in their efforts to protect the country from terrorists. He also said he doubts that Azaria is receiving a fair trial.
“I am following the trial, and I have reached the conclusion that if Elor Azaria is convicted, he should receive an immediate pardon and should not sit a single day in jail,” Bennett told Channel 2. “This is the message that must be sent.”
Bennett clarified that he does not support shooting innocents, but he said the terrorist shot by Azaria was anything but that.
“I don’t think there is a single soldier who thinks it is permissible to go and shoot a helpless man,” Bennett said.
He compared Azaria’s case to the Bus 300 affair, a 1984 incident in which Shin Bet members executed two Palestinian bus hijackers, immediately after the hostage crisis ended and they had been captured. Then-Shin Bet head Avraham Shalom resigned and was given a full presidential pardon for unspecified crimes, and pardons were granted to others involved before charges were filed against them.
Bennett’s statements were immediately condemned by politicians in the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid. Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, a retired major-general, accused Bennett of “fighting an ugly political battle against the military ethics of IDF soldiers and legal procedures.”
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, also a former major-general, warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to follow up on Bennett’s call for a pardon or suggest Azaria should be given a medal.
“The sad and transparent fight between Bibi and Bennett for votes on the extreme Right erodes trust in the IDF,” Stern said. “The two of them are sacrificing the trust in the IDF’s officers and the legal system in Israel. Even in politics, there must be limits for national responsibility.”
Bennett also faced criticism for statements he made about the fate of Judea and Samaria at a memorial event for former MK Hanan Porat at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Thursday night.
“For the Land of Israel we must switch from merely putting on the brakes to seeking victory,” Bennett told the crowd. “We need to put our sights on our dream and our dream is that Judea and Samaria will be part of sovereign Israel. We need to work on this today and submit our souls. We should not continue to see the Land of Israel as merely a tactical goal while there are those who see a Palestinian state as strategic goal.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) warned that “Bennett’s call for submitting souls for the land of Israel could lead to a civil war, returning to pre-1967 borders, losing the settlement blocs, dividing Jerusalem and international isolation.”
The head of the Zionist Union faction, MK Merav Michaeli, compared Bennett to a spoiled child, who insists on holding all the toys and saying they are all his.
“Israel needs different leadership and not delusional messianism,” Michaeli said.