Israeli police said this morning that they are investigating cases of incitement against President Reuven Rivilin after edited photos depicting him in a Palestinian headdress were circulated online following his refusal to pardon convicted Hebron shooter Elor Azaria, according to Ynet News.
Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter after footage showed the former army medic killing Abdel Fatah Al-Sharif, a Palestinian youth who lay incapacitated on the ground in March 2016. He was sentenced to just 18 months in jail, which was subsequently shortened to 14 months, but attempted to appeal his conviction, requesting a presidential pardon last month.
A statement from Rivlin’s office yesterday rejected his appeal: “The president has taken into account the offenses you committed and their circumstances… and he has decided to reject the request.”
Israelis flooded social media with anger at the decision and insults against Rivlin; the president was termed a “damned Nazi”, “piece of trash” and “filthy traitor”. A constructed photo of the president wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh was also circulated with critics calling on him to resign.
One user dubbed Rivlin, who is known for his right wing views, “a president of Arabs and leftists”, while another encouraged the president “to eat kanafeh and baklavas at the terrorist’s house”, referring to the slain Al-Sharif.
Many prominent Israeli figures had supported Azaria’s appeal, including Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman who said last month that the soldier should be freed from prison without delay. At the time of his sentencing in July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with a group of senior Israeli ministers called for the soldier to be pardoned.
In a letter from Rivlin to Azaria, the president made is clear that such a decision was taken not because of Azaria’s conviction, but rather fearing for the reputation of the Israeli army, were further clemency to be granted.
“The President concluded that taking all considerations into account … an additional lightening of your sentence would harm the resilience to the Israel Defence Forces and the State of Israel.”
Even after being denied pardon, Azaria could still be released early by submitting requests to two committees in the army to hold “another examination of the punishment”.
Azaria was awarded compensation earlier this month amounting to some $6,900 from the head of the Manpower Directorate of the Israel Defence Forces; half the amount that is normally paid to soldiers who complete their military service. Azaria only served 18 months of his three year term in the army.
During and after his trial, Azaria has received widespread support from the Israeli public and was labelled a national hero under the slogan “Israel’s son”.