In an interview Motzoei Shabbos, Education Minister Naftali Bennett called for the release of IDF soldier Elior Azaria – or, if he is convicted of manslaughter and disobeying orders, for a full pardon for the soldier.
“I said from the beginning of this story that the interference by the prime minister and Chief of Staff was unconscionable, and condemned him in advance to a guilty verdict,” Bennett said on a Channel Two news program. “I have been following this trial and the conclusion I arrived at is clear – Azaria, if he will be convicted, should not spend one day in prison.”
Azaria is on trial for shooting at a terrorist in Chevron on Purim morning when he was neutralized and on the ground, after having been shot when he tried to stab soldiers. He is being tried on charges of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming an IDF soldier. Evidence on the culpability of the soldier has been mixed, with footage and testimony surfacing that either indicate that the soldier was justified in his claimed fears that the terrorist, who was still alive, could have set off a bomb he may have been carrying on his person, or that he was completely immobilized and “deserved to die,” as some witnesses have claimed that the soldier said. His trial, which has been going on for months, is nearing its end.
“Our message to soldiers in the field needs to be that we will defend them when they do their jobs,” Bennett said in the interview. “Of course, for cases of gross mutiny things must be dealt with properly, but not in the manner Azaria was treated – where his conviction was already decided before his trial started.”
Bennett also discussed another comment of his that has generated much controversy in recent days. “Of course everyone knows that the term ‘sacrifice your soul,’ which I used in terms of advancing settlement and annexing Yehudah and Shomron, means treating something with great dedication. There are 200,000 teachers in Israel who daily ‘sacrifice their souls’ to teach children.”
Bennett used the term last week on social media, generating speculation, especially on the left, as to whether he was advocating mass suicide, civil war, or other extreme life and social order-threatening activities in order to advance settlement. Zionist Camp head Yitzchak Herzog said that it appeared that Bennett was calling for a civil war, and termed the education minister “a dangerous messiah.” Bennett said that such interpretations were ridiculous. “Sacrificing your soul means trying very, very hard,” he added.