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Israeli leaders diverge following soldier’s manslaughter conviction

Israeli political leaders have issued a range of responses following yesterday’s conviction of an IDF soldier found guilty of manslaughter after killing a wounded Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron in March.

The panel of three judges rejected the defence’s two central arguments that the Palestinian assailant was already dead and that Sgt Elor Azaria felt threatened. Azaria’s defence team have stated they will appeal against the verdict. The case, which sparked intense public debate during its proceedings, continued to divide opinion.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “a hard and painful day for us all” and urged “all citizens to act responsibly toward the IDF, the officers, and the IDF chief”. Netanyahu also made clear “I support pardoning Elor Azaria”.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett also called to pardon Azaria, saying that the proceedings against him were “contaminated from the beginning”. Likud’s Culture Minister Miri Regev, Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz were among those who also publicly backed a pardon.

They were joined by Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich, who said: “careful consideration should be given to the possibility of pardoning him [Azaria].”

Most opposition leaders were more circumspect, emphasising the need to respect the court’s decision. While expressing a degree of sympathy for Azaria, opposition leader and Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog said: “The assault on the judges, on the IDF Chief of Staff and IDF commanders harms the IDF and must stop.”

Herzog’s Zionist Union colleague Tzipi Livni commented: “Courageous leadership needs to come out today on the side of the IDF.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also condemned “irresponsible comments” from politicians and said: “The court has spoken. Now we too have a job – preventing a schism within the people, preventing harm to the people’s army.”

Regarding the possibility of a pardon, the office of President Reuven Rivlin, who is the only person who can issue a pardon, said: “In accordance with standard practice… requests for pardons are dealt with when submitted by the applicant themselves.”