A sizable majority of Israelis support the pardoning of an IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron last year, a poll conducted on Wednesday found.
According to the flash survey commissioned by Channel 2, some 67 percent of Israelis said they supported clemency for Sgt. Elor Azaria, while 19% said he shouldn’t be pardoned.
A military tribunal in Tel Aviv convicted Azaria, 19, for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian, who minutes before had stabbed two other soldiers. The decision, which his attorneys slammed as biased, concluded a months-long trial that deeply divided the country.
The results showed that 51% of respondents opposed Wednesday’s manslaughter verdict, while 36% said they backed it.
Moreover, 52% of poll participants said they disagreed with comments by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot seeming to dismiss the idea that Azaria should be protected from prosecution as he is ‘everyone’s child.’
“An 18-year-old man serving in the army is not ‘everyone’s child.’ He is a fighter, a soldier, who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this,” Eisenkot said Tuesday.
Some 38% said they agreed with Eisenkot’s remarks.
The poll was conducted on Wednesday by Machon Midgam and the iPanel survey platforms. The report did not reveal how the poll was conducted or how many people were contacted.
Azaria’s trial saw politicians and current and former army generals alternately supporting or condemning the soldier’s actions. Many of the army’s top brass, as well as former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, had railed against Azaria’s “unethical” decision to shoot the assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in the head nearly 15 minutes after the latter was shot and wounded as he attempted to stab an IDF soldier in Hebron.
Azaria was filmed shooting Sharif on March 24, 2016. The footage, which was published online shortly after the incident by the left-wing advocacy group B’Tselem, sparked an intense debate in Israel about military discipline and ethics in the midst of a wave of Palestinian terror attacks that began in September 2015.
In the face of strong condemnation of Azaria’s actions by top military brass, including Eisenkot and Ya’alon, far-right supporters and some politicians have accused the defense establishment of abandoning one of its own.
Following the verdict, politicians from across the political spectrum called for Azaria to be pardoned.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and opposition lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich were among those appealing for clemency for the soldier.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.