Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman shortly after the Hebron shooter trial .
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
As political tension mounts over the conviction of Sgt. Elor Azaria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hit back at his right-wing rival Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday morning by declaring that only the soldier himself, his family or lawyers could request a pardon.
Liberman was responding to a statement by Bennett on Wednesday demanding that the defense minister “bring about an immediate pardon for Elor Azaria so that he doesn’t sit even one day in prison.”
“The education minister should at least know how to read, and read the law,” said Liberman on Army Radio, and condemned what he described as political grandstanding over the case.
“All these slogans which we’re hearing from different ministers are slogans for the sake of these ministers themselves and not for the sake of Azaria. They’re not taking care of Azaria they’re taking care of themselves and this harms our ability to deal with the situation.”
Asked about Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s denunciation of the handling of the case as “a show trial,” Liberman called for either restraint or silence from politicians.
“We need to support the IDF and the chief of staff. The denunciations and attacks harm the security of the State of Israel, and that must not happen. The IDF must be outside the political debate.”
Asked about his public support for Azaria and his appearance in court alongside the soldier when he was in the opposition, Liberman argued that he had simply been objecting to what he described as the conviction of Azaria by senior politicians and the media before the trial had even begun.
Liberman singled out former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, whom he evicted from the post when joining the government, as having “crossed redlines” in his public condemnation of Azaria before the trial, and said he stood by the actions he took before joining the government.
In response to the defense minister’s comments, Bennett, who served in the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal and Maglan units and as a company commander, quipped that “I don’t think that in issues surrounding war in the field of combat I would take lessons from Liberman.”
He also defended his call for a pardon, saying that it was crucial to give IDF soldiers the state’s moral support when they are fighting to defend the civilian population.
“When we send a combat soldier who volunteered to serve in a combat unit into the battle field, which is not in a cafe in Tel Aviv but an extremely dangerous battlefield, and he is defending us from a murderous intifada and makes a mistake, which was a bad mistake, will we as the state of Israel give him backing?” Bennett asked.
“You give backing not when its easy but when its hard. And this is a hard situation.”
He also insisted that the president has the authority to issue a pardon “at any time” and said that a pardon is a tool of policy and that this “extraordinary tool” is designed specifically for “extraordinary situations” such as Azaria’s case.
As a riposte, Bennett said that Liberman should learn to count to 48 hours, the amount of time Liberman once said it would take him to kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh should he become defense minister.
Bennett condemned incitement against the court saying it was unacceptable, but said that the incitement of some could not be used to silence what he said was legitimate criticism of the legal process in Azaria’s case.
“Mothers and fathers of IDF combat soldiers are watching and want to know we’re backing them, and I promise that we are backing them and we’re protecting their children,” he said.