Likud MK Yehudah Glick on Wednesday rejected calls to pardon Sgt. Elor Azaria, but said the IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter should get a lightened sentence should he acknowledge wrongdoing in the March 2015 shooting of a disarmed Palestinian stabber. Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party also expressed opposition to a pardon.
Azaria was convicted of manslaughter on Wednesday by a military tribunal. His sentencing will take place in just over a week, on January 15, according to the IDF. The soldier faces a maximum sentence of 20 years, though analysts expect him to receive less than that. His defense team said immediately after the verdict that it would appeal.
In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Glick broke ranks with ministers and MKs from the Likud and Jewish Home parties, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had called for Azaria to be pardoned.
“I do not believe that a pardon is the right direction in this case,” said Glick. “In my view, leniency in his sentence is preferred. But he must take responsibility and understand that he acted incorrectly.”
Speaking in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, Glick also condemned the fervent public support for Azaria, which he argued hurt the soldier’s case by allowing him to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.
“Those who created an atmosphere around Elor Azaria — that he’s a hero, etc. — haven’t helped him at all,” he said.
“How unfortunate that he didn’t simply say from the first moment: I’m sorry, I made a mistake,” added Glick.
“Elor violated the orders on opening fire, and therefore he should have confessed to that and been judged in a military trial, not a show trial. Elor is ‘our son’ but he is not a hero,” said the Likud lawmaker. “But on the other hand, he is not a murderer. He didn’t go out to kill.”
Also shifting away from the calls for a pardon was Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party, who told Army Radio that he was in favor of Azaria receiving time served.
The soldier has been largely confined to his base since his indictment.
Asked whether he, like his party leader Naftali Bennett, was calling for an immediate pardon for the soldier, Ariel said: “We had a debate about it in the party. I think there is another, better way and that the judges should give him the time he has already served and he should be freed on the day of the sentencing.”
On Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called on fellow cabinet members to refrain from demanding a pardon for Azaria, singling out Education Minister Naftali Bennett for particular criticism. Before assuming office as defense minister, Liberman staunchly defended Azaria. However, he had refrained from commenting on the case since entering the Defense Ministry in May 2016. On Wednesday, Liberman had said he didn’t like the verdict, but that it should be accepted and respected.
“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. “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.”
Writing on Facebook Wednesday night, Netanyahu gave his backing to the calls for clemency, saying that he supported granting Azaria a pardon.
“This is a hard and painful day for us all — first and foremost for Elor and his family, for IDF soldiers, for many citizens, and for the parents of our soldiers, myself included,” the prime minister wrote.
“I urge all citizens to act responsibly toward the IDF, the officers, and the IDF chief… IDF soldiers are our sons and daughters, and they must remain above partisanship. I support pardoning Elor Azaria,” he wrote.
Bennett, Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) have also publicly called for Azaria to be pardoned. In a surprise development, coalition ministers were joined in their call by Zionist Union’s Shelly Yachimovich, former head of the Labor Party.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.