Photo Credit: Pixabay

The radicalization of public discourse in recent weeks is troubling the Shin Bet security agency and its director Ronen Bar. The feeling is that all restraint has been lost; the brakes are off, and everything is permissible and possible: Radical talk could be followed by extremist deeds from which there will be no way back.

Ze’ev Raz and David Hodek, both of whom have an illustrious military past – Raz led the Israeli Air Force raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor and Hodek was awarded the medal of valor in the Yom Kippur War – have both crossed the boundaries of legitimate discourse (speaking in the context of the government’s proposed judicial overhaul, Hodek said he would not hesitate to use live fire, while Raz said a prime minister deserves to dies if he assumes dictatorial powers) and they are not alone. Social media is full of similar terminology and worse, employed by less well-known figures, and of course, the same goes on the Right.


For a whole year, there was an ongoing campaign against a serving prime minister (Naftali Bennett) who was labeled illegitimate, and as such everything was permissible to bring him down. The lies and incitement employed in this campaign crossed all boundaries of logic and fairness. And we haven’t said a word yet about turning an entire public into “traitors”, something that MKs participated in.

Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Nissim Vaturi (Likud) last week removed the Hadash MK Ofer Cassif from the dais because he had labeled the coalition MKs, fascists. One could perhaps have identified with Vaturi’s decision to remove Cassif had he not himself recently tweeted, “Left-wing Neo-Nazis, you are an embarrassment to humanity.”

In the discourse that has emerged here (although discourse is perhaps a misleading word; it is more like parallel deafening and violent dialogues) no one side is willing to listen to the other. When Justice Minister Yariv Levin states a priori that he will not agree to any compromise on the judicial reform that has rocked the country, he is making it clear to the other side – regardless of whether his arguments and concerns are justified or not – that he is not willing to be an interlocutor.

The online commentators have noted that Yitzhak Rabin despised the High Court of Justice and the judicial system, but he obeyed them even when he paid a personal price (the “dollar account affair”) and when he paid a political price (when he was forced to fire Aryeh Deri). MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism Party), the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, on the other hand, last week declared that one doesn’t have to comply with all High Court rulings. The mantra that he used (“if the court rules that all redheads should be killed”) is so infantile and baseless that it raises questions about what is going on inside the mind of the person who is supposed to be responsibly managing one of the most volatile processes ever undertaken in Israel.

Look who’s talking!

Naturally, the principal concern is that verbal violence does not deteriorate into physical violence. This is especially true when it comes to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the most threatened political personality in Israel by far. The discourse surrounding the prime minister has become even more extreme lately. Since the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli prime ministers have been under maximum security protection but the current environment has led to even tighter measures yet.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Levin have also had security around them tightened. Hayut’s security detail is provided by the Shin Bet, but security for Levin is provided by the Magen unit responsible for ministers who  are not symbols of power (the president of the State, the prime minister the speaker of the Knesset, the head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the chairman of the opposition, and the president of the Supreme Court). The Shin Bet often provides Magen with intelligence and makes recommendations about the level of security in line with threat scenarios, but is not directly responsible for security. Neither is it the domestic security agency’s responsibility to arrest or interrogate any citizen who has inciteful statements online; that is the role of the police, which took a step in this direction when it called in Hodek and Raz for questioning. As usual, the police left a huge question mark as to why it did not do the same with online bullies from the Right who have been no less violent.

These interrogations are supposed to cool down the discourse. Almost everyone called in expresses regret for what they wrote or said and restrain themselves moving forward. The problem is that these people are just a drop in a very murky ocean. Worse yet, the ironclad rule is that a dog who barks doesn’t bite. In other words, people who write these things don’t do anything in the end. The danger, one that always exists, comes from a silent enemy, from someone who angrily seething in the dark, who suddenly decided to take action; from the next Yigal Amir, who the Shin Bet and the police do not yet know about.

Thus, the decision by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to deny Hodek’s request for a gun license is all the more ridiculous. First, because this should be a professional matter: In Israel, gun licenses are not handed out to on the basis of “you’re one of us or you’re not of us” but to those who meet professional criteria. Second, because it is doubtful that Ben-Gvir who has a gun license despite his violent, criminal past, is the right person to hand out licenses to others. Just as his coalition colleague, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich blamed left-wing organizations for calling for revolt and forgot to mention that he in the past was arrested and questioned by the Shin Bet on suspicion of planning violent actions to stop the disengagement from Gaza.

Smotrich incidentally, only three months ago in the Knesset on the memorial day for Rabin blamed the Shin Bet, not only for its failure to protect the late prime minister’s life, but also for “irresponsible manipulations that to this day have not been fully exposed to encourage the murderer to carry out his deeds.” The Shin Bet and its director protested and rightly so: Smotrich’s claim is baseless and was intended to delegitimize the organization. Smotrich claimed (not unjustifiably) that following the murder, the blame was pointed at half the of the country, but he ignored the public environment before the murder, which provided fertile ground for the murderer to spring up from and gave him a tailwind to act.

In the current toxic atmosphere. there are real threats coming from people acting “on behalf.” This applies to the threat to the economy and the legal threat. We can already early signs and even if the CEOs of high-tech companies who have announced that they will take money out of Israel do belong to the protest movement, we would do well not to dismiss what they say and what they symbolize: If Israelis are doing this then foreigners will be even more cautious with their money. For those who dismiss the matter by saying as it were “goodbye lefties and don’t come” – and there are many such people on social media including senior figures – we should look at what Israel’s high-tech sector represents in GDP and foreign investments and how it helped reach the Abraham accords with the countries of the region.

Start paying attention to what the world has to say

Even less has been said about the legal side of things, but leading jurists warn about what could happen to Israel in international forums if the judicial reform passes and Western countries start to look at Israel differently (or as President Macron of France put it in his meeting with Netanyahu: as those who do not share democratic principles with us). This would be a development that would give the green light for Israelis to be hunted down in courts throughout the world. The first to pay the price will be members of the security forces who will find it difficult to leave the country. While there have been those in Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party (MK Yitzhak Kreuzer)  who have said that Israel is at war and this would be a “reasonable price to pay,”  the threat is there and it is very real.

Up until now, this threat has been blocked by the High Court which is considered throughout the world to be a legal authority whose decisions are fair and democratic. Weakening the Supreme Court will weaken Israel not just inside Israel because of the proposed changes in the democratic structure of the country, but also throughout the world. Anyone that ignores this is being dangerously irresponsible and only contributing to the deepening divide with the inherent threats it brings.

{Written by Yoav Limor and reposted from IsraelHayom}


Previous articleIt’s NOT About Democracy
Next articleUS ‘Deeply Troubled’ by Israel’s Decision to Legalize Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria – No Mention of Terrorism