Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on Wednesday for a pardon for Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was convicted earlier in the day of manslaughter in the shooting death of a wounded Palestinian assailant.
With his comment, Netanyahu has plunged into a raging political debate that has divided the country, putting himself at odds with the military. The prime minister made the remarks just hours after Sgt. Elor Azaria was convicted on Wednesday. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years. Azaria’s defense team has already said it will appeal.
In an online posting, Netanyahu wrote, “I support giving Elor Azaria a pardon.”
“This has been a difficult time for all of us, especially for Elor and his family, the IDF and many civilians who are parents of soldiers, myself included,” Netanyahu wrote.
He also urged the public to support the army and its commanders.
The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, has authority to issue pardons but has said he will wait for the legal process to run its course before making a decision.
In other fallout from the controversial court ruling, the IDF assigned a security detail to protect the three judges who found Azaria guilty.
Security guards have also been assigned to the chief military prosecutor in the case, Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman amid fear of violent reprisals from angry supporters of the soldier.
The judges — Central Command Chief Justice Col. Maya Heller, Col. Carmel Wahabi and and Lt. Col Yaron Sitbon — will be escorted by security guards throughout the coming days.
In response to the public uproar against the court’s decision, and the numerous calls for a pardon, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued a statement defending the rule of law.
“Israeli law enforcement system, including the military justice system, is fulfilling its role independently, impartially and devoid of bias, and according to legal and professional considerations only. Respect for the state legal system and judicial decisions is a fundamental rock of Israeli democracy. Claims that law enforcement officials supposedly act according to external reasons are unfounded, irresponsible and must be fully condemned.”