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Netanyahu says Rivlin criticism gone too far

Une photo de Reouven Rivlin en keffieh est apparue sur les réseaux sociaux à la suite de sa décision de rejeter la demande de grâce du soldat Elor Azaria
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Rivlin received scathing backlash on social media after rejecting a pardon request by IDF soldier Elor Azaria

Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday said in a statement that the derogatory images circulating social media of a kaffieyeh-wearing President Reuven Rivlin, had crossed the line.

“In a democracy, you may criticize everyone," he said at the weekly Likud faction meeting, "not all criticism is incitement — but it should be without keffiyehs, without nooses, and without Nazi uniforms.”

Photos circulated across social media of Rivlin in a traditional Arab head garb known as a kaffiyeh after his rejection on Sunday of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Elor Azaria’s pardon request to reduce his fourteen-month sentence for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist earlier this year in Hebron.

The Israeli police announced that it would start an investigation into the publication of the photos, which are reminiscent of those created in opposition to peace talks with the Palestinians by the former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, before he was assassinated.

The badly photoshopped picture features a smiling Rivlin on the backdrop of books, with a Palestinian symbol and the words "Reuven Rivlin a traitorous Jew-boy may his name and memory be accursed" in Hebrew.

Rivlin's Facebook page quickly filled with messages of support but also scathing criticism, with social media users telling him he was "no longer my president," as one wrote, or accusing him of "fawning to appease your Arab and Left-wing friends," as another said.

Populist lawmaker Oren Hazan of the ruling Likud party -- the same party Rivlin was a member of in parliament and later as a minister -- called on Rivlin to resign, and said pardoning authority should move from the presidency to the parliament.

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Several Israeli politicians referred to the pictures as constituting incitement, including Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who took to twitter to rally support for Rivlin and drawing comparisons to the photo and anti-Rabin propaganda circulated before his murder.

The image was meant to equate Rabin to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who wore a keffiyah regularly, and imply he was betraying Israel's interests.

“Everyone knows how it starts and everyone knows how it ends. We must not allow [Israel] to be destroyed by free hatred. It is incumbent upon every citizen and elected official to go and speak out today against incitement, which has become a legitimate political tool!”


Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid called upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to defend the President and denounce those ministers who attacked him. Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) also condemned the use of incitement, but not before criticizing the decision herself, later adding that criticism of the President is “practical and justified”.

Minister of Transportation Israel Katz explained that "in a democracy it is permissible to share and criticize, but all the personal attacks and the severe incitement against the president are disgraceful and crossing a red line, and they must be stopped immediately." Despite believing that Azaria should be granted pardon, Katz pointed out that "the President of the country thought and decided otherwise by virtue of his authority and discretion."

Rivlin's office meanwhile postponed an olive harvesting event at the presidential residence in Jerusalem set for Monday morning, citing "inclement weather," despite clear skies.

- Rivlin says pardon would harm Israel's resilience -

Rivlin on Sunday rejected IDF soldier Elor Azaria’s request to reduce his fourteen-month sentence, which he is currently serving after shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist earlier this year in Hebron.

“The President has given his opinion regarding the offenses committed by you and their circumstances, the content of your written application, and all the material and opinions brought before him, and has decided to reject the application,” stated the President’s Office Legal Advisor on Sunday.

Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman, who initiated the appeal for Azaria’s pardon, expressed his regret over the President’s decision.

“Rivlin had an opportunity to put an end to this affair that shook Israeli society,” said Liberman, “in addition to the personal price paid by the soldier and his family, I believe that in this unique case it was also appropriate to consider the public interest...and the impact of the incident on the IDF soldiers.”

Azaria was convicted of manslaughter after he was caught on film in March 2016 shooting Palestinian terrorist Abdel Fattah al-Sharif as he lay prone and immobilized on the ground after carrying out a stabbing attack against Israeli soldiers in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron.

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Following a string of back and forth appeals by Azaria’s lawyers and the High Court, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot reduced the prison sentence from 18 months to 14 stating that he “found it appropriate to weigh considerations of kindness and mercy, taking into account his past as a combat soldier in the operational arena.”

Rivlin’s legal office affirmed their decision to ease the initial sentence by four months, “for reasons of compassion” whilst also “taking into consideration” Azaria’s military service.

However, on the basis of granting a pardon, the President stated that “it would harm the resilience of the Israeli Defense Forces and the State of Israel.”

“The values of the IDF, among them the Purity of Arms, are the core foundation of the strength of the [army], and have always stood strong for us in the just struggle for our right to a safe, national home and in the building of a robust society,” Rivlin’s Legal Advisor continued.

Azaria's case has deeply divided Israeli public opinion between those who believe he was wrongly tried and those who say the conviction was the right and proper consequence of his actions.

Various Israeli politicians have publicly stated that they believe Azaria should be pardoned, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"My opinion has not changed with regards to granting amnesty to Elor Azaria, as I expressed after the verdict," Netanyahu wrote on Twitter following the court's ruling a few months ago.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has previously slammed the trial as "politically contaminated," also called for pardoning Azaria while urging citizens to refrain from directing backlash towards the IDF.

Liberman added that, “even at this hour, we must not forget that this is an outstanding soldier and a terrorist who wants to kill.”

Azaria began serving his sentence in August 2017 and is set to be released in October 2018.

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