Kafe Knesset for Jan. 5

After hours of silence, the Israeli prime minister reacted last night to the dramatic verdict in the Elor Azaria trial. The military court convicted Azaria of manslaughter in the shooting of a Palestinian terrorist last March in Hebron. In a short Facebook post, published just a few minutes before the main 10:00 pm news shows, Netanyahu expressed his empathy with the soldier and his family and called on the public to keep the IDF out of the debate. “I urge all citizens to act responsibly toward the IDF, the officers, and the IDF chief… IDF soldiers are our sons and daughters, and they must remain above all conflict,” Netanyahu wrote, responding to the various curses and statements against the IDF leadership and chief of staff – many of them coming from his own party. In correlation with a Channel 2 poll that showed that a wide majority (69%) of the Israeli public supports granting Azaria clemency – the premier took a stand and declared his support for a pardon. Netanyahu’s position is in line with his ally, Naftali Bennet, who was the first to call for a pardon, even before the final verdict was read out.

It’s all about the base, as a popular pop song would say. The Azaria affair has turned into a battle over public opinion and specifically over right wing constituents. In sharp contrast to Netanyahu and Bennet, Israel Beitenu leader Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Kulanu head, Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, are taking a different approach to the pardon issue. Kachlon released a statement last night which was dubbed by Twitter fans as the most responsible and sensible response to the events of the day, declaring a clemency should only be considered after the legal procedures are over, and should depend on the IDF’s position towards the move. Liberman, for his part, is emerging to be the most vocal voice against the pardon demand, and in a series of media interviews this morning he attacked Bennet and other politicians for politically interfering in the court’s decision. “The Education Minister (Bennet) should know how to read the law — and the law is clear. All the slogans that we are hearing at the moment are self-serving, and not for the benefit of Elor Azaria.” Liberman, who immediately after the incident was the first to back Azaria and was one of his staunchest supporters, is now echoing his predecessor, Yaalon, who was kicked out of the Defense Ministry because of his views on the case. In a short video posted yesterday, Yaalon accused the political establishment for exploiting the case for votes. “They used Elor and his family as a political pawn for a few extra mandates. They have lied to you. And I am ashamed of those politicians.”

Despite the cross-spectrum support for Azaria’s clemency, the truth of the matter is that the political system has nothing to do with a potential clemency process. A pardon can be granted by the President or by the IDF itself. President Rivlin emphasized that yesterday in a special statement – clarifying that only the defendant himself can apply for a pardon, and that he will not make any decision until after the sentence is rendered, slated for later this month. Just last month, Rivlin rejected a petition signed by 65 parliament members, requesting a pardon for an Ethiopian man who killed his alleged rapist and abuser, and many in the political system believe he will also reject a pardon in the Azaria affair.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.