Liberman stops short of urging pardon for Azaria
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Liberman stops short of urging pardon for Azaria

After soldier jailed for manslaughter of Palestinian assailant, defense minister implores sides to ‘do what is necessary to finish issue for good’

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman seen in the plenum of the Knesset on February 6, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman seen in the plenum of the Knesset on February 6, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While mainly right-wing politicians called for a pardon for IDF soldier Elor Azaria and others, mainly from the opposition, praised the verdict Tuesday, hours after Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the killing of an incapacitated Palestinian assailant, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman less definitively called for the sides “to finish this issue for good.”

The minister, who had urged a pardon for Azaria before he took up the defense job last year, refrained Tuesday from explicitly calling for Azaria to be pardoned. In a Facebook post, 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,” Liberman 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.

IDF soldier Elor Azaria, right, convicted on the manslaughter of a wounded Palestinian, is embraced by his mother Oshra at the start of his sentencing hearing in a military court in Tel Aviv, February 21, 2017. (AFP/POOL/ JIM HOLLANDER)
IDF soldier Elor Azaria, right, convicted on the manslaughter of a wounded Palestinian, is embraced by his mother Oshra at the start of his sentencing hearing in a military court in Tel Aviv, February 21, 2017. (AFP/POOL/ JIM HOLLANDER)

After the Jaffa Military Court in January convicted Azaria, 21, of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Palestinian stabber Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the West Bank city of Hebron, Liberman had also called on Israelis to respect the court’s decision.

“We’re doing everything to guard both the values of the IDF and the soldier Azaria. Anything else only hurts,” he said.

He had also 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 repeatedly 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 at the time. “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.”

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