02:03 GMT +318 November 2019
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    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin

    Israeli President Refuses to Pardon Soldier, Rage Online Prompts Police Probe

    © AFP 2019 / GALI TIBBON
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    Israeli police launched an investigation Monday after the appearance of an image on social media showing President Reuven Rivlin wearing a traditional Arab keffiyeh headscarf. Internet users blew up in anger over the news that Rivlin refused to pardon an IDF soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian knife attacker execution-style in 2016.

    The doctored picture, showing Rivlin wearing the Arab head garb, is similar to images that ultraconservative opponents of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin created to express their opposition to peace talks with the Palestinians. Rabin was branded a traitor, and assassinated in late 1995. Other Israeli politicians, including former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, have also had their photos doctored to show them wearing keffiyehs over perceived conciliatory measures toward the Palestinians.

    ​The controversial image appeared soon after Rivlin rejected an appeal by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to pardon 20-year-old Elor Azaria, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier serving a reduced 14-month sentence for manslaughter in a case involving a Palestinian knife attacker. Azaria was convicted in a military court earlier this year for the execution of the Palestinian in March 2016, when two Palestinian youth attacked an Israeli army patrol. Azaria shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head as he lay incapacitated on the road. Liberman called the execution-style shooting "an operational mistake."

    Rivlin's refusal to pardon the soldier has been criticized by several politicians, including members of the current coalition government, and has also sparked anger among ultraconservative forces in Israeli society. According to The Jerusalem Post, more than 1,500 Israelis have signed a petition demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remove Rivlin from office.

    The call was echoed on social media, with some saying that the largely ceremonial institution of the Israeli presidency be abolished altogether. Other users attacked Rivlin himself, saying "You are not my president," calling him the "President for the Arabs," and accusing him of protecting terrorists instead of giving amnesty to IDF "heroes." 

    The president's own Facebook page was also flooded with criticism, detractors accusing him of "fawning to appease" his "Arab and Leftwing friends," and writing that "you are the president of only 20 percent of this country, a president without a people."

    However, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein defended Rivlin. "Keffiyehs? What have we come to? Even a slight deviation equals a betrayal? What's next?" he asked.

    The deadly shooting incident had been caught on video, and spread widely on the internet and in the media. Prime Minister Netanyahu had earlier voiced his support for pardoning the convicted soldier.

    social media, response, criticism, Reuven Rivlin, Israel
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