Kafe Knesset for Jan. 4

It’s been dubbed as “the trial of the century”: the legal procedures against Elor Azaria, the 19 year old IDF soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last March have been catching the Israeli public’s attention for months and reached a milestone today, as a Tel Aviv military court decided to convict him of manslaughter. Three judges stated he killed the wounded Palestinian terrorist with no reason. For over two and a half hours, the judges read out the verdict, while hundreds of right-wing demonstrators protested outside, clashing with police and chanting slogans against Palestinians, the left, and liberal media. Even a Trump Banner was spotted in the crowd.

The Elor Azaria case has divided Israeli society in recent months, exposing painful rifts and tensions between the military establishment and the political echelon. Right wing politicians, including the PM himself, have embraced Azaria’s cause, and spoken out against the swift condemnation of his actions by the IDF leadership and former defense minister Moshe Yaalon. The affair is considered the main cause of last year’s biggest political tremor, when Netanyahu decided to fire Yaalon and replace him with Avigdor Lieberman and has prompted strong attacks against the IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, who has insisted Azaria’s behavior must be denounced. The verdict will not put an end to the political brouhaha: even before the final decision was read out, right-wing politicians attacked the army and MKs started petitioning for his immediate pardon.

Amongst the dozens of political reactions to the verdict in support of and against Azaria lies another intensifying battle within the coalition, with two players: Liberman and Bennett. Yesterday, Liberman lashed out at Bennett’s West Bank annexation plans, and today was payback time for the latter. Bennett, the Jewish Home leader, blasted the verdict, stating the soldier “should not sit even 1 day in jail” and called on Liberman to “live up to his words” and grant him an immediate pardon. When he was still a member of the opposition, Liberman was one of Azaria’s most vocal supporters, but now that he is sitting in the Defense Ministry, it’s much more complicated, as he is expected to back top military brass. Liberman released a mild statement, saying he doesn’t “like the verdict but we must respect it,” calling on politicians to stop the attacks on Eizenkot and the IDF. The Jewish Home then released another response, claiming “Israel is fed up with gabbling–we expect the Defense Minister to fulfill his promises and announce an immediate pardon for Azaria.”

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