Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday told supporters of Sgt. Elor Azaria, a soldier convicted of shooting dead a disarmed Palestinian assailant, that they should “sit quietly and stop making noise and a ruckus” if they want to help him.
Last Wednesday, the Jaffa Military Court convicted Azaria, 19, of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Palestinian stabber Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron last March. Sharif was lying on the ground, disarmed by soldiers and wounded after stabbing two Israeli troops, when Azaria shot him in the head.
In the aftermath of the contentious trial, some of Azaria’s backers took to social media to denounce and threaten IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the military judges who presided over the case.
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.
The soldier’s sentencing is scheduled for January 15.
“We all know that on the 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 guard both the values of the IDF and the soldier Azaria. Anything else only hurts,” he said.
Right-wing politicians, accompanied by former Labor leader MK Shelly Yachimovich from the left, responded to the verdict by calling for a presidential pardon for Azaria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said he backs a pardon for the soldier.
The day after the verdict, Liberman urged his fellow cabinet members to refrain from demanding Azaria be pardoned, singling out Education Minister Naftali Bennett for particular criticism. Bennett, who leads the religious-nationalist Jewish Home Party, has called for Azaria to be given an “immediate” pardon.
“I expect all ministers to show restraint, to keep quiet, and to let the security establishment deal with the issue in a quiet, responsible manner and with discretion,” Liberman told Army Radio in an interview last week. “I think it’s appropriate for the education minister to know how to read the law — and the law is clear. All the slogans that we are hearing at the moment are self-serving, and not for the benefit of Elor Azaria.”
On Saturday, police arrested a 33-year-old Jerusalem man on suspicion of incitement to violence against Eisenkot. At least two other people have been arrested for incitement following the Azaria verdict. In addition to Eisenkot, much of the vitriol has been directed towards military judge Maya Heller, who headed the tribunal that convicted Azaria.