Liberman hints at support for Elor Azaria pardon

Defense minister compares Hebron shooter to Royal Marine who will soon be released thanks to reduced sentence

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman dropped his most explicit hint so far that he supports calls to pardon Elor Azaria, convicted in January of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a disarmed Palestinian stabber in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Sharing a Facebook article on a British court decision to shorten the sentence of a Royal Marine convicted of killing a wounded Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, Liberman wrote: “In Britain they understand that you need to be lenient with soldiers fighting terrorists, even if they have made a mistake.”

Alexander Blackman was convicted of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 10 years by a military court in 2013 for the September 2011 killing in Helmand Province.

Earlier this month, the Court Martial Appeal Court quashed the murder conviction and replaced it with one of manslaughter, on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Supporters of jailed former British soldier Alexander Blackman arrive at The Royal Courts of Justice in London on March 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)
Supporters of jailed former British soldier Alexander Blackman arrive at The Royal Courts of Justice in London on March 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

Judges concluded that Blackman, 42, suffered from a mental illness at the time of the shooting. They said Blackman had been “an exemplary soldier” prior to his deployment to Afghanistan and had “suffered from quite exceptional stressors” during his time in the conflict zone.

Supporters in the public gallery cheered as the judges reduced Blackman’s sentence to seven years. He could be freed from prison next month, having served half his term.

Footage from another marine’s helmet camera showed Blackman shooting the militant in the chest at close range, then saying: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention.”

The post shared by Liberman referred to Blackman as “the British Elor Azaria.” Azaria was filmed shooting and killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who had been shot and incapacitated some 10 minutes earlier after stabbing and wounding an IDF soldier.

Liberman, who urged a pardon for Azaria before he took up the top defense job last year, refrained from explicitly calling for Azaria to be pardoned after he was handed an 18-month prison sentence last month. In a Facebook post at the time, he did, however, take pains to note the mitigating circumstances surrounding the case, and seemed to hint that a pardon might be advisable.

“Now, after the sentencing, I hope that the two sides will do what is necessary to finish this issue for good,” he wrote. “As I’ve said in the past, even those who don’t like the verdict or the sentence are bound to respect the court, and as I’ve also said, the military must stand beside the soldier and his family.

“You have, on the one hand, an exemplary soldier, and on the other, a terrorist who tried to kill Jews, and everyone must take that into account.”

Liberman had expressed emphatic support for Azaria immediately after the incident occurred in March 2016, but has moderated his approach considerably since assuming control of the Defense Ministry last June.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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