Israeli judge, officials receive death threats over manslaughter conviction of soldier

Israeli solider Sgt. Elor Azaria waits with his parents for the verdict inside the military court in Tel Aviv, Israel on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. An Israeli military court is set to deliver the verdict in the case of the soldier tried for manslaughter for the death of a wounded Palestinian attacker. ( Heidi Levine, Pool via AP).


Israeli police arrested two people Thursday after death threats emerged online against a judge and other officials over the manslaughter conviction of a soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian assailant.

Israel’s military has also assigned bodyguards to the three judges who found the 20-year-old French-Israeli soldier guilty on Wednesday, reports said.

Sgt Elor Azaria was convicted after a trial in a military court that began in May and which deeply divided the country.

It has led to harsh criticism of the verdict by far-right activists, while right-wing politicians — including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have called for the soldier to be pardoned.

Police said they had arrested two people from Jerusalem and the city of Kiryat Gat for incitement to violence online.

According to Israeli news site Ynet, the posts by a 54-year-old man and 22-year-old woman included death threats against the head of the three-judge panel in the case, Colonel Maya Heller.

“Police units are continuing to monitor social media and respond to threats and incitement to violence connected to the Azaria court decision,” a statement said.

Military and justice ministry officials declined to comment on the increased security for Heller as well as the two other judges, Colonel Carmel Wahabi and Lieutenant Colonel Yaron Sitbon.

Military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Nadav Weissman was also reportedly given extra protection.

In a sign of the tensions surrounding the case, dozens of protesters scuffled with police Wednesday as they gathered outside Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where the verdict was announced.

‘Speak out against incitement’

Military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot was reportedly targeted with threats, with some supporters of the soldier suggesting he would join Rabin — a reference to the 1995 assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist.

Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein said a number of officials had also been targeted online.

“The statements made yesterday against the chief of staff — the commander of the army — and the military judges should shock everyone living in Israel,” Edelstein said.

“I expect all of us elected officials and prominent voices to speak out unequivocally for the freedom of expression and against the freedom of incitement and contempt.”

The case burst into public view when a video of the March 24 shooting in Hebron in the occupied West Bank emerged and spread widely online.

The video showed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, 21, lying on the ground, shot along with another man after stabbing and moderately wounding a soldier minutes earlier, according to the army’s claim.

Azaria then shoots him again in the head without any apparent provocation.

Heller spent more than two and a half hours reading out the decision on Wednesday, sharply criticising the arguments of Azaria’s lawyers.

The judges ruled there was no reason for Azaria to open fire since the Palestinian was posing no threat.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on January 15.

A poll by pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom found that around 70 per cent of Israelis favour a pardon for Azaria.

President Reuven Rivlin, whose role is mostly ceremonially, decides on whether to grant pardons.

Rivlin, from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, has often been viewed as a voice of reason in Israeli politics since taking office as president in 2014.