Israeli president shown in faked photos wearing Arab headdress

(JTA) – Israel Police have launched an investigation into faked photos showing President Reuven Rivlin wearing an Arab headdress, or kaffiyeh.

The images were created after Rivlin rejected a pardon for a former Israeli soldier who shot and killed a downed Palestinian attacker, and hark back to those featuring prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by right-wing opponents of his peace overtures to the Palestinians.

Critics said the images incited the assassination of Rabin in November 1995 in the weeks following their appearance.

The investigation was opened Monday, according to Israeli reports.

More than 10,000 people responded on Facebook to Rivlin’s decision on Sunday to reject the request to pardon Elor Azaria, who is serving a reduced sentence of 14 months in prison for the murder.

Rivlin came under fire from members of the government coalition, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who earlier this month sent a letter to Rivlin supporting a pardon and calling on the president to “show leniency and mercy” and “put an end to the affair that shook Israeli society.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who also supported a pardon, questioned the need for a police investigation of the doctored photos.

“There’s room to wonder whether there is need for a police examination of the disgusting photos being disseminated on social media, as I have no doubt the State Attorney’s Office will determine this is not a criminal offense. It is disgusting, but not criminal,” he said in a statement.

Facebook commenters praised and criticized Rivlin’s rejection of the pardon. Some called Rivlin a hero and moral, while others declared “you are not my president.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of a meeting of the Likud party faction on Monday said he disagreed with the rejection of a pardon for Azaria and noted that criticism is valid and the basis of democracy.

“In a democracy, you may criticize everyone,” he said. “Not all criticism is incitement – but it should be without kaffiyehs, without statues, without nooses, and without Nazi uniforms that we have all been dressed in.”

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