On Saturday, the chief of Israel’s internal security agency issued a rare warning of probable violence amid one of the most highly tense moments in decades, with the country on the approach of deposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest serving leader.
Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister may come to an end after Israel’s centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid declared on Wednesday that he has succeeded in creating a governing coalition following a March 23 election.
The new government, yet to be sworn in, is an unlikely patchwork of left-wing, liberal, rightist, nationalist and religious parties, as well as – for the first time in Israel’s history – an Arab Islamist party.
Netanyahu in online posts has warned the partnership was “a dangerous leftist government.”
Some right-wing groups are angry at Naftali Bennett, head of a small ultra-nationalist party who is slated to replace Netanyahu in a power-sharing pact with Lapid, garnering many postings attacking him on social media.
Before the election, Bennett had promised he would not join the centrist Lapid, or any Arab party in a coalition.
“We have recently identified a rise in increasingly extreme violent and inciteful discourse particularly on social networks,” Nadav Argaman, head of the Shin Bet security force, said in a statement without mentioning any names.
“This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals, as one that permits violent and illegal activity that may even cause physical harm,” he said.
Since Bennett announced he was joining forces with Lapid, security services have ramped up his protection with right-wing demonstrations held near the homes of his party members, hoping to keep them from joining the government.
Argaman called on political and religious leaders to show responsibility and tone down potential incitements. His warning was reminiscent to some in Israel of the days leading up to the 1995 assassination of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was shot by a Jewish ultra-nationalist for pursuing a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians.
Israel’s left has for years pointed the finger at Netanyahu, then head of the opposition, for playing a part in incitement that preceded the assassination. Netanyahu has vehemently rejected the accusation and has repeatedly condemned Rabin’s killing.
Lapid and Bennett have said they hope their “unity government” will heal deep political divides among Israelis and end hate. A poll by Israel’s N12 Television’s Meet the Press on Saturday showed that 46% of Israelis support the Bennett-Lapid government, 38% would prefer another election – the fifth in about two years – and 15% did not state a preference.
Tensions are likely to rise further this week, when a Jewish right-wing march is planned to pass through Jerusalem’s Damascus gate. Last month, Israel and Hamas engaged in 11 days of fierce combat in Gaza, precipitated by Israeli-Palestinian clashes in and around Jerusalem’s Old City. A similar march, with its path changed at the last minute, was held on the day the battle began.
Scuffles broke out on Saturday in the neighbouring volatile East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where the prospective expulsion of Palestinians by Jewish settlers played a crucial part in the buildup to the recent Israel-Hamas war.
Al Jazeera said that one of their reporters, Givara Budeiri, was beaten and detained by Israeli police while covering a rally in Jerusalem.
Budeiri, according to a police spokeswoman, attacked officers and refused to identify herself. Budeiri, who was wearing a press vest, was seen being yanked and shoved while being brought away by three or four cops, according to video released online. According to Al Jazeera, the reporter’s camera was also shattered.
According to Al Jazeera, the journalist was freed a few hours later and barred from returning to Sheikh Jarrah for 15 days.