Israeli police have launched an investigation into incitement against President Reuven Rivlin, a day after he decided not to pardon Elor Azaria, an IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter for shooting a terrorist who had been disarmed.
Following announcement of the rejection of the pardon request, a number of postings surfaced on social media accusing Pres. Rivlin of being a traitor and depicting him wearing a keffiya, a traditional Arab headdress.
Opposition politicians blamed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud MKs for the incitement.
In a faction meeting on Monday, Zionist Camp leader Avi Gabbay said “the prime minister is silent, because that is his culture. He sets the culture, and his emissaries implement it. He should call his emissaries to order.”
In a similar attack, Yair Lapid told his faction Yesh Atid that “in 24 hours, the prime minister hasn’t found time to condemn the attacks on the president. Miri Regev, David Bitan, and Oren Hazan have been making unacceptable statements about the president, and the prime minister has been silent like a fish as if he doesn’t care.”
Later in the day, PM Netanyahu responded, defending the Likud MKs right to criticize Pres. Rivlin while condemning incitement:
“In democracy, you can be critical, and no one knows that better than me. Not all criticism is incitement. It’s unacceptable for the president or anyone else to be presented as a Nazi.”
He also implied the existence of a double standard with reference to free speech on the left or the right.
“With regard to substantive criticism, it is not only permitted, it is essential,” the prime minister continued. “You can’t always define substantive criticism from the right as incitement and substantive criticism from the left as freedom of speech… Because that is the basis of democracy. ”
PM Netanyahu noted, however, that he also disagreed with Pres. Rivlin’s decision not to pardon Azaria.
Culture Minister Miri Regev moderated her criticism of Pres. Rivlin somewhat in the wake of the incitement postings. Regev said that she “[condemns] all acts of incitement and racism against every person and against the president of the state.”
But she did not back down from her position, saying again that criticism of Pres. Rivlin is ”practical and justified” and that it was ”unfortunate” that he chose to reject Azaria’s appeal.
Coalition head David Bitan told Army Radio on Monday that, “interestingly,” Pres. Rivlin had shown compassion for “his friend,” former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while failing to show the same emotion for Azaria, even though he “deserved it.”
Expressing his bitterness over the issue, Bitan said further, “I am sorry for all the times I voted for Rivlin when he was a Likud candidate for the Knesset. I have severed contact with him and am not speaking to him.”
Later Monday, Rivlin’s office reported receiving numerous calls of support and encouragement from members of the Likud Central Committee.
Rivlin was a senior member of Likud before being elected president in 2014.
Updated Monday, November 20, 2017 at 3:34 pm