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New pardon request of Israeli soldier Azaria denied by President Rivlin

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a prone Palestinian assailant, arrives at the Tserifin military base to begin his 18-month prison sentence on August 9, 2017
JACK GUEZ (AFP)
Various politicians, including Netanyahu, have publicly dissented, saying that Azaria should be pardoned

President Reuven Rivlin, responding to the request of Elor Azaria's parents to reconsider their son's pardon, reaffirmed on Sunday his denial to reduce the soldier's 14-month sentence for manslaughter after shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian terrorist earlier this year in Hebron.

"According to the policy used in the handling of pardons over the years, a renewed request for amnesty can be submitted only six months after the president's decision was made," it said.

Rivlin's rejection may be understood as procedural, but his denial of the original amnesty request last month created a great stir in the highly publicized case of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier, who some viewed as a scapegoat in a greater conflict.

“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 back in November.

Rivlin's denial caused such a commotion that even Prime Minister Netanyahu said critique of the president had crossed a line after pictures of him in a kaffiyeh began circulating across social media.

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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.

Minister of Defense 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.”

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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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