Israel’s security issues rare warning over Jan. 6-style mob violence ahead of Netanyahu departure
TEL AVIV — The head of Israel’s internal security service said Saturday that “extremely violent and inciting discourse” targeting the lawmakers seeking to end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year reign could take a potentially lethal form — in a grim echo of the warnings ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building.
Shin Bet chief Nadav Argeman said the spike in vitriol targeting Netanyahu’s opponents online and in public demonstrations “may be interpreted by certain groups or individuals as one that allows for violent and illegal activities that may even, God forbid, become lethal.”
He called on public officials to rein in the assorted groups who have vowed to do “anything possible” to prevent the swearing in of a new, power-sharing government that has been spearheaded by centrist politician Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu has said he condemns any incitement and violence, but he said at a meeting with his Likud party on Sunday that “incitement against us is also raging.” He called on lawmakers to vote against the formation of the “fraudulent” alternative government.
“Mr. Netanyahu, don’t leave scorched earth behind you,” Naftali Bennett, the right-wing religious nationalist politician who is poised to unseat him, said Sunday. “We, the entire nation, want to remember the good that you did in your service for the country.”
The new government, in which Bennett is to serve as prime minister for two years before handing the job off to Lapid, is expected to come to a vote in the Knesset this week. It’s composed of eight ideologically divergent political parties, including leftists, centrists, former right-wing Netanyahu allies, and, for the first time in Israel’s history, Arab-Islamists.
“With his brother-in-arms Trump out-of-power, consumed by incoherent ranting and mumbling in Mar-a-Lago about how the election was stolen from him by Democrats and the media, Netanyahu has one last page to copy from Trump’s playbook: creating his own ‘January 6,’” Alon Pinkas wrote in the left-leaning daily Haaretz. “As a result of incitement and disinformation, judges, prosecutors and now also the leaders of the opposition are receiving extra protection after Netanyahu’s cultlike supporters threatened their lives.”
After the Jan. 6 mob riot at the U.S. Capitol building, which left five dead and more than 140 people injured, Netanyahu said that he would leave office if voted out of power. He called the storming of the Capitol by thousands of pro-Trump supporters “disgraceful,” and “the stark opposite of the values that Americans and Israelis uphold.” In the following days, Netanyahu removed a picture of him with Donald Trump from his Twitter banner, though he continued to boast of policy achievements, like the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, that took place during the Trump presidency.
But since Lapid’s “change coalition” on Wednesday announced they were able to achieve a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu has launched a fierce, multi-fronted campaign to keep the new government from assuming power. He has uploaded a slew of social media posts, including old videos of Bennett and his partners pledging to never allow Lapid to become prime minister, and calling on right-wing lawmakers “to oppose this dangerous, left-wing government.”
In a televised statement last week, Netanyahu accused Bennett and his partners of committing “the fraud of the century.” After insinuating the new government has made potentially harmful concessions to the Arab-Islamist party Ra’am, lawyers for Netanyahu’s Likud party petitioned Lapid to release all the details of the coalition agreements, asking, “What do you have to hide?”
Netanyahu has not specifically condemned the demonstrators outside the homes and offices of Bennett, Lapid and many others. The protesters have issued thinly veiled death threats and hoisted signs carrying slogans and images that are reminiscent of those seen in the leadup to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Rabin was shot dead by an extremist Jewish settler who said his “leftist” government’s peace agreements with the Palestinians amounted to “treason.”
Netanyahu’s statements have emboldened other, more overt calls for intimidating his opponents, including from his son, Yair, who has been repeatedly banned by social media sites for violating hate speech rules. On Friday Twitter, Facebook and Instagram temporarily suspended the account of Yair after he called for demonstrations outside of the home of a lawmaker in Bennett’s Yamina party, posting his private address.
The Likud said that the social media response was a “textbook case of political censorship of the right,” and urged the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook “to stop this double standard and allow freedom of expression for all.”
American evangelical leader and Netanyahu advocate Mike Evans wrote in a letter to Bennett: “You’re a pathetic, bitter little man so obsessed on murdering Netanyahu that you’re willing to damage the State of Israel for your worthless cause.” He said Bennett’s government would lose all support from the U.S. evangelical community.
Hezi Kalo, former head of the Shin Bet’s intelligence branch, said that the current atmosphere reminded him of the days preceding the Rabin assassination.
“We don’t have to wait for (bloodshed). We must do everything possible to make sure nobody takes the law into their own hands,” he said.
On Friday, just before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page that Bennett’s decision to join the “change government” was comparable to a Torah story featuring “spies — public representatives of the Israelites who defamed the Land of Israel and weakened the people’s spirit only out of concern for their personal jobs.”
“In our generation too, in our times, people who were elected by right-wing voters have to stand up and do the right thing: to form a strong and good right-wing government that will protect the Land of Israel,” he wrote.
Lapid received the mandate to attempt to form a ruling government after Netanyahu failed to do so, despite his Likud party garnering the largest number of votes overall, following four inconclusive elections held over two years.
The new government’s swearing-in ceremony is expected to take place amid the still-unresolved tensions from the recent 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas last month.
A right-wing Jewish parade is expected to pass through Jerusalem’s Old City’s Damascus Gate on Thursday in a move that many Palestinians see as a provocative assertion of Jewish sovereignty over contested areas of East Jerusalem.
In the nearby area of Sheikh Jarrah, a mostly Palestinian neighborhood where evictions of Palestinian families contributed to the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict, an Al Jazeera journalist, wearing a press flak jacket, was arrested while covering clashes on Saturday, according to the network.
Such crises tend to play well for Netanyahu’s political strategies for survival, as they allow him to position himself as the “responsible adult in the room,” wrote, Liraz Margalit, a social psychologist at IDC in Herzliya, in the Israeli daily Maariv.
“The message is very clear,” she wrote. “Netanyahu will not lose without a fight.”