At a meeting Monday between military officials and the father of an IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, the soldier’s family was urged to forgo appealing the conviction in a bid to bolster the prospects of lenient sentencing.
The Jaffa Military Court last Wednesday convicted Sgt. Elor Azaria, 19, of manslaughter in the fatal shooting last March of Palestinian stabber Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron. Azaria’s sentencing is scheduled for January 15.
According to Hebrew media reports, Azaria’s father Charlie sat down with Col. Guy Hazut, the commander of the Kfir Brigade in which his son serves.
The mediator at the meeting was Ofer Sofer, a former deputy to Hazut who served as a battalion commander in the paratroopers, and is now the chairperson of the non-parliamentary right-wing National Unity political party.
According to Channel 2, the meeting was intended to reduce the animosity between the army and the Azaria family, and to explore ways to contain the public fallout from the trial, which has bitterly divided the country.
The family were reportedly urged to drop a planned appeal of Azaria’s conviction, a step they were told would be taken into consideration in the future when considering eased sentencing or a pardon for Azaria.
The IDF refused to comment on the report.
By law, there are two ways Azaria may obtain a pardon. All convicts, including soldiers, can appeal to the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, for a pardon. Soldiers can also turn to the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who has the legal power to issue pardons for active-duty personnel.
Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman alluded to efforts aimed at resolving the divisive issue, writing on his Facebook page that those calling for an immediate pardon and protesting the conviction should keep quiet, as they were doing more harm to Azaria than good.
“We all know that on one side [of this case] there’s a decorated soldier and on the other there’s a terrorist who came to kill Jews,” Liberman wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
“We’re doing everything to safeguard both the ethics of the IDF and the soldier Azaria. Anything else only hurts,” he said.
Since the verdict was announced, Liberman, who voiced support for Azaria before entering the Defense Ministry last year, has called on Israelis to respect the court’s decision and asked the soldier’s attorneys to agree to a deal in which they forgo filing an appeal in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Many right-wing politicians, accompanied by former Labor leader MK Shelly Yachimovich (Zionist Union), have called for a presidential pardon for Azaria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said he backs a pardon.