Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett called for the Israeli soldier on trial for killing a wounded and disarmed Palestinian attacker in Hebron earlier this year to be pardoned immediately, if he is found guilty of manslaughter by a military court.
Sgt. Elor Azaria, “if convicted, should be pardoned without him serving a single day in prison,” Bennett told Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” on Saturday.
Bennett said jailing Azaria would send the wrong message to other Israeli soldiers facing similar situations.
“There is no soldier who doesn’t know that it’s against the rules to shoot a neutralized terrorist. On the other hand, it is necessary to support our soldiers in the field who are risking their lives in the face of murderous terrorism,” he said.
He claimed that the contentious legal proceedings against Azaria were tainted by the positions taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the time of the incident. These had effectively sealed Azaria’s fate before the military court could hand down a ruling, he asserted.
Bennett went on to say that Azaria’s family had already “paid a heavy price” throughout the public trial.
Azaria stands charged with manslaughter after he was filmed shooting Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head on March 24, nearly 15 minutes after Sharif was shot by soldiers during an attempt to stab them in the West Bank city of Hebron.
The legal proceedings against Azaria have caused a major political storm in Israel, with some right-wing politicians and the soldier’s family accusing the army of abandoning the sergeant by jailing and charging him.
In recent months, thousands have demonstrated on his behalf at a number of rallies around the country demanding his release from IDF custody.
Along with Ya’alon and the army, Netanyahu initially came out against Azaria, saying, “What happened in Hebron doesn’t represent the values of the IDF.”
But a week after the March shooting, Netanyahu faced criticism for calling Azaria’s father to offer support.
In an interview with Channel 2 last month the prime minister defended his decision to call Charlie Azaria, saying that he has called “many distressed parents whose children fell [in combat] or were declared MIA…and here [too] we have a matter of great distress for Israelis, I want you to understand that.”
His comments drew further criticism for apparently putting Azaria and missing or fallen soldiers in the same category.
Days later, Netanyahu apologized for the apparent comparison in a Facebook post: “I am sorry if what I said was not understood correctly…There is no comparison and there cannot be any comparison.”
In July, Azaria testified that he feared al-Sharif’s body was fitted with a bomb. Prosecutors have disputed this.
On Sunday his fellow platoon member — who was injured in the stabbing attack — told the Jaffa Military Court that as he lay on a stretcher after the attack he heard people shouting that the stabber could also be armed with a bomb.
“When they put me in the ambulance I started to hear cries that the terrorist is still alive, that apparently he has a bomb, and I understood that the incident was not over yet,” said the soldier, whose name was not cleared for media publication.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.