Liberman Asks Rivlin to Pardon Azaria

YERUSHALAYIM -
Elor Azaria
Elor Azaria accompanied by his father as they arrived for a hearing at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has asked President Reuven Rivlin to grant a pardon to former IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who is serving a 14-month prison sentence after being convicted of manslaughter earlier this year. In a letter to Pres. Rivlin, Liberman asked the president to “put an end to this episode, which has rankled Israeli society.” The letter asks Rivlin to “treat this soldier with mercy and kindness.”

Liberman said that he, along with many other Israelis, had felt that Azaria should never have been brought up on criminal charges. Azaria “was an excellent soldier, and the person he killed was a terrorist. While he was on trial, and when he was convicted, I stood by the military justice system, and despite the sharp criticism against me, I declared that the decision of the court must be respected.” Now that the conviction had been handed down and the soldier sentenced, it was time to pardon him, Liberman wrote in a letter to Rivlin.

Azaria was convicted on charges of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming an IDF soldier, after shooting at a terrorist in Chevron last Purim morning when the terrorist was neutralized and on the ground, after he had been shot when he tried to stab soldiers. At his trial, defense attorneys stressed Azaria’s sterling record as a soldier, and the fact that the possibility of a further terror attack — in which the terrorist who was on the ground might set off a bomb that he could have been carrying on his person — justified the shooting, or at least provided reasonable grounds for Azaria’s having acted the way he did. He was sentenced in February to 18 months in prison. Last month, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot commuted his sentence to 14 months in prison.

The reduction of the soldier’s sentence didn’t go far enough, Liberman said in the letter. “Elor and his family have paid a heavy price, with the public nature of his long and unprecedented trial, which has also taken a heavy toll on the health of Elor and family members. We must take into account the divisions in Israeli society that have emerged and its impact on IDF soldiers. We send our children to defend the country and the public, placing them in complicated situations that are unlike any for soldiers elsewhere, and demand from them — as we will continue to do — that they act with bravery, determination, professionalism, and in a moral manner. I am positive that pardoning Elor Azaria will not take away from these demands, but will provide a proper balance between the personal situation of the family and the rule of law,” Liberman added.