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How Israel's populist politicians campaigned for Hebron shooter

The family of Sgt. Elor Azaria was hoping that a populist right-wing campaign in support of their son would save him from conviction over the fatal shooting of a wounded Palestinian assailant.
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The Elor Azaria affair, in which an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier shot an incapacitated terrorist, was the catalyst for Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister last May. His predecessor, former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, resigned due to a confrontation with the prime minister on the subject. Ya'alon had adopted a strong judgmental line against Azaria and called him "a soldier who has gone astray" shortly after the incident. That statement cost Ya'alon his job.

Just prior to his rather surprising appointment, Yisrael Beitenu chairman Liberman had managed to take the reins of the public struggle for Azaria's exoneration. He appeared in discussions in the military court, kept contact with the family and expressed confidence that the soldier would be found innocent. But Liberman's entry to the Defense Ministry decreased his involvement in the affair to the point of a full turnabout. When the military court convicted Azaria of manslaughter on Jan. 4, Liberman completed his changeover. The defense minister adopted the pose of a responsible leader who gives support and backing to the military and its commanders. Liberman even labeled right-wing politicians who expressed support for Azaria as a group of populists who were only trying to take advantage of the soldier's trial to increase their own political power.

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