The parents of a former IDF soldier convicted of killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker asked President Reuven Rivlin to reconsider his decision not to pardon their son in a letter this week, though the request faces little chance of being granted.
In the letter, which was sent on Thursday and received Sunday, Oshra and Charlie Azaria noted that 55 politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were now calling for their son, Elor, to be pardoned.
The request, however, is not likely to be seriously considered, despite the backing from senior officials. Barring significant developments, the president’s office only reviews clemency requests every six months.
The convicted soldier, Elor Azaria, last asked for a presidential pardon in October and received a response last month, meaning his case will only be next considered in May 2018, according to protocol. He is set to be released in October 2018, though he may be paroled before his 14-month sentence is completed.
The president’s office would not say definitively that it was denying the call for clemency, but an official indicated that this was the case.
“The request has been received and will be addressed accordingly,” a spokesperson said.
In March 2016, then-Sgt. Azaria shot and killed Palestinian stabber Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, some 11 minutes after the assailant had been shot and disarmed while he and another Palestinian man attacked two IDF soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Throughout his highly publicized and contentious trial, Azaria said that he shot and killed Sharif because he feared the attacker was fitted with a bomb. A military court, however, dismissed the testimony, citing the soldier’s nonchalance in the moments before he opened fire and killed Sharif, and his statements to fellow soldiers that the assailant deserved to die for attacking his comrades.
He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced in February 2017 to an 18-month prison term, which was later shortened to 14 months by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. Azaria had completed his army service by the time of his sentencing but is serving his time in a military prison.
Following Rivlin’s rejection in November, Azaria’s supporters reached out to politicians with the hope that they could sway the president’s decision.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and approximately 50 other lawmakers signed a petition saying that Azaria should be released.
“The Azaria affair is tearing Israeli society apart, creating polarization and division, and your decision can put an end to all this and calm the discourse,” the petition reads. “It is impossible to ignore the feelings of the general public, that Elor Azaria is a scapegoat who has become a symbol and paid an especially high price.”
Azaria’s parents included the petition in their letter to the president on Thursday.
Azaria’s months-long trial and conviction revealed deep rifts in Israeli society, with some hailing him as a hero for killing an attacker and others deploring his actions.
Rivlin’s decision last month to reject Elor Azaria’s pardon request drew harsh criticism from many Israelis on social media. An image of him in an Arab keffiyeh circulating online prompted police to open an investigation.
Rivlin’s decision was also criticized by senior government officials, including Liberman and Culture Minister Miri Regev.
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein struck back at Rivlin’s critics, accusing them of sowing discord.
“Keffiyehs? What have we come to? Even a slight deviation equals a betrayal? What next?” he asked.
In an apparent criticism of his fellow Likud members, Edelstein said, “If you think this is going to garner more votes for the party, you are wrong.”