Rivlin says he’ll weigh pardon request from Hebron shooter, not politicians
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Rivlin says he’ll weigh pardon request from Hebron shooter, not politicians

Facing calls for leniency for IDF soldier Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter, president says only defendant can file clemency requests; sentencing set for January 15

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

The legal team of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following a verdict on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
The legal team of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria speaks to press at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv following a verdict on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Facing calls to pardon an IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin’s office clarified that defendants, rather than politicians, must apply for clemency, saying he will consider all requests “in accordance with standard practices.”

Politicians from across the political spectrum responded to the verdict by calling for Elor Azaria, 19, to be pardoned after he was found guilty by the Jaffa Military court for shooting and killing an incapacitated Palestinian assailant.

Azaria’s sentencing will take place in just over a week, on January 15, according to the IDF. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years, though analysts expect him to receive less than that.

His defense team has already said it will appeal.

Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who shot a Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, sits in the courtroom before the announcement of his verdict at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, January 4, 2017 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who shot a Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, sits in the courtroom before the announcement of his verdict at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, January 4, 2017 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a statement released hours after the verdict, Rivlin’s office said requests will only be dealt with after all legal proceedings have ended.

“In accordance with standard practice regarding requests for pardons on this or any case, requests for pardons are dealt with when submitted by the applicant themselves, or by one with power of attorney, or an immediate relative, following a conclusive judicial ruling,” the statement read.

“In light of the foregoing, and in relation to the case of the soldier Elor Azaria, in the event that a pardon should be requested, it will be considered by the president in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities.”

The statement suggests Rivlin will not make any decision until after sentencing, giving him the option to commute the sentence rather than overturn it entirely.

President Reuven Rivlin, right, and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2016. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin, right, and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2016. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)

In addition to granting a full pardon, the president, in conjunction with the Justice Minister, can commute a sentence to a shorter prison time or to another punishment such as community service.

Azaria’s trial saw politicians and current and former army generals alternately supporting or condemning the soldier’s actions. Many of the army’s top brass, as well as former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, had railed against Azaria’s “unethical” decision to shoot the assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in the head nearly 15 minutes after the latter was shot and wounded as he attempted to stab an IDF soldier in Hebron.

Azaria was filmed shooting Sharif on March 24, 2016. The footage, which was published online shortly after the incident by the left-wing advocacy group B’Tselem, sparked an intense debate in Israel about military discipline and ethics in the midst of a wave of Palestinian terror attacks that began in September 2015.

A supporters of Elor Azaria holding a sign reading "terrorist = victim?! protecting soldier = killer?! only in Israel!" outside the Kirya military court, where Azaria was convicted of manslaughter on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A supporters of Elor Azaria holding a sign reading “terrorist = victim?! protecting soldier = killer?! only in Israel!” outside the Kirya military court, where Azaria was convicted of manslaughter on January 4, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Even before the final guilty verdict was read out by the judge, Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) called for a pardon for Azaria and moments after the verdict, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, reiterated a call he made the previous day, saying Azaria must be pardoned “immediately, right now.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) aslo 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 Labour Party.

Yachimovich praised the court for burnishing the ethical standard expected of IDF soldiers, but said the entire trial was a symptom of the deep division within Israeli society, “and Azaria’s shoulders are not broad enough to bear the weight of that rift. Therefore,” she tweeted, “at the conclusion of the trial and after the sentencing, we must carefully consider the possibility of pardoning him.”

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