Politicians on the Right and Left were divided in their reactions to the guilty verdict in the trial of Hebron shooter Sgt. Elor Azaria, with many on the Right calling for Azaria to be pardoned.
“The court had its say, and now the government and the IDF must take responsibility and pardon the soldier that we sent to the front lines to defend the citizens of Israel from Palestinian terrorist attacks,” said Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said she will work toward Azaria’s pardon, and that there should not have been criminal proceedings against him in the first place.
Tensions running high shortly before verdict in Hebron shooting case given to Elor Azaria (credit: REUTERS)
“If Azaria broke the rules, he should have been called to a disciplinary hearing with the brigade commander,” said Regev, a former IDF spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, the primary court in this case was a field court, in which commentators and politicians judged Azaria before the military investigation of the event.”
She said the verdict sent a message to soldiers: “You are alone in the field. Soldiers have operational challenges that are not simple, and a soldier has been abandoned.”
Some on the Right questioned the legitimacy of the trial.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the proceedings “polluted from the beginning."
"Severe statements by politicians before the investigation began, the absence of the soldier himself from the operational investigation, the negative media coverage, including from Army Radio, caused Elor irreparable damage. I called for a pardon before the verdict, like in the Bus 300 incident [in 1984, when two Shin Bet agents shot dead Palestinian hijackers after the hostage crisis ended], but unfortunately, that did not happen,” Bennett wrote on Facebook, adding that he expects Defense Minister Liberman to pardon Azaria.
Bennett also called on IDF soldiers to continue defending Israel without fear and doubts, and that Israelis will remain united.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely declared the proceedings a “show trial,” that the verdict was known before it even started, and called for Rivlin to pardon Azaria.
Likud MK Oren Hazan, who sat in on part of the reading of Azaria’s verdict and was in touch with him and his family throughout the year, said the soldier should not sit in prison for even one day.
According to Hazan, the proceedings were rigged and the trial was not a fair one, with too much outside intervention.
Azaria is “our boy, our man, who did what was expected of him beyond any doubt,” he argued. “We must remember that Elor killed a vile terrorist, not a hero… and he was there because the country sent him, so the country should back him fully.”
In an unusual move, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit – responding to claims that the trial was unfair – threw his support behind the military courts system, which he said “fulfills its job independently, without fear or bias, and through professional legal considerations alone. Respect for the rule of law and judicial decisions is a cornerstone of Israeli democracy. Claims that law enforcement are acting on foreign interests are baseless, irresponsible and should be rejected.”
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) circulated a petition among MKs calling for Liberman to pardon Azaria.
The petition reads: “The shooting took place in an operational event and must be properly investigated within the army. In similar cases in the past the army backed the fighters, even if there were mistakes...
Unfortunately, the judicial process was sullied by intervention of outside factors.”
Shas faction chairman Yoav Ben-Tzur called the verdict a sad event for Israeli society, and said Azaria was everyone’s son.
“Just as we expect IDF soldiers to be committed to defending Israel, we must defend them,” Ben-Tzur said. “Let us strengthen Elor, his father, mother and family, and pray that with God’s help he will be pardoned.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) did not call for a pardon, but said the fact that Azaria was acting while in mandatory service and shot “a terrorist… a moment after he attacked, and not an innocent man,” should be taken into consideration when he is sentenced.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) called to carefully consider the possibility of a pardon.
According to Yacimovich, the court behaved professionally and courageously, and that it is important that it made the moral standards of the IDF clearer.
However, she said: “The court is a sterile territory in which the evidence talks, but Israeli society is an explosive arena and Azaria’s shoulders are too narrow to carry the weight of the divide.”
Others in the opposition praised the courts and criticized the Right’s calls for a pardon.
Former defense minister MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) said this was not a joyous occasion, but called for everyone to respect the court, its independence and its authority.
“The IDF has always been and will continue to be a moral army due to, among other things, the complete separation of politics, public opinion and its professional considerations,” he stated. “Heading the army is a brave chief of staff who understands his overall responsibility, an outstanding combatant and a moral and dignified man. We must honor the chain of command, starting with him, down to the last and most recent recruit. Every soldier must know that the chain of command and rules of ethics apply also in the intricate reality of the West Bank, and ignore reckless politicians who scatter statements and call for opening fire and shooting to kill without any actual authority.”
MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of using “dog whistles” against the IDF and its chief of staff, and said the Right’s “attacks” on them are endangering democracy.
“Netanyahu wants Israeli society to fall apart and sent his party’s members to harm the IDF and the members of [Beitar Jerusalem fan gang] La Familia to beat up journalists and Arabs,” he stated. “I call on responsible ministers to stop this. We cannot let them dismantle the IDF and Israeli society.”
MK Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, urged the Israeli public to accept the court’s decision and “prevent a rift in our society, and to ensure no harm comes to the people’s army. I call on everyone to end the violence and stop the irresponsible statements coming from within the political system. It’s not the way of the Jewish people, of the State of Israel or of the IDF,” he said, after violent clashes erupted over the case earlier in day.
Lapid asserted that Israel’s power comes from “our wonderful military, our officers and our soldiers, and because we are a country of law and order.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said the Azaria case “put an unpleasant mirror in front of a reality many want to deny, the military rule over the territories, and specifically in Hebron, and the settlers’ dominance over the army.”
The verdict, she said, shows that no one is exempt from the rule of law.
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said: “The difference between this case and hundreds of others is the presence of B’Tselem’s camera, which documented the cruel reality of the occupation and revealed the inflammatory pus that the occupation creates at the heart of Israeli society. It’s clear that the soldier himself is directly responsible for his actions, but the real responsibility is on Israeli governments that have chosen for 50 years to turn young people into soldiers, maintaining military rule over a civilian population without rights,” he stated.
Said MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List): “There are thousands of Azarias that have not been put on trial.”
He added that individual soldiers were not the root of the problem, but rather a leadership that “continues in acts of killing and occupation and tramples on the human rights of Palestinians.”
The Israeli leadership should be put on trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Zahalka said. “If this doesn’t happen, the officially sanctioned killing will go on.”
JPost.com desk contributed to this report