A Day in Netanyahu’s New Israel: Threats, Violence and Calls to Arrest the Opposition

Demonstrations against government plans to weaken Israel’s judicial system sparked talk of treason on Tuesday, plus death threats against a former minister and an apparent attack on protesters

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and the scene of the attempted car ramming in Be'er Sheva on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and the scene of the attempted car ramming in Be'er Sheva on Tuesday.Credit: Photos: Eliyahu Hershkovitz / Jack Guez, AP / Ohad Zwigenberg. Artwork: Anastasia Shub

The heated battle over the Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial overhaul became increasingly inflamed on Tuesday, with the rhetoric threatening to explode into actual violence over the course of 24 hours.

The stage was set by Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Zvika Fogel, who said in an interview that leaders of the opposition were committing “treason against the state” by “inciting the nation to rebel.”

Such behavior, he charged, was a “betrayal of the homeland and grounds for arrest.”

He named four critics of the government: Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid; National Unity Party head Benny Gantz; former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon; and former Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan. Three of these four are retired IDF generals. He labeled them the “most dangerous people in Israel at the moment.” The four men, he said, were calling for “war” and therefore “should be arrested.”

Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel. Leaders of the opposition are committing “treason against the state,” the far-right lawmaker said.Credit: Danny Shem-Tov, Knesset Spokesperson's Office

Fogel’s fellow party member Almog Cohen echoed his colleague’s attack on opposition leaders and government critics, saying that those who were “inciting” against the government should be “taken away in handcuffs.”

The two far-right lawmakers cited a long list of opposition leaders as being “dangerous” in their calls for protest, aiming their strongest fire at former Defense Minister Gantz. He had previously warned the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that if it continued in its current direction, “The responsibility for the civil war that is gathering in Israeli society will be on you.”

Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen. Those “inciting” against the government should be “taken away in handcuffs,” said the far-right lawmaker. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

He also called for mass protests that would “cause the country to tremble.”

Pushed to denounce the statements by his coalition partners who suggested that the opposition should be rounded up, Netanyahu responded to the exchanges with implied criticism for both parties.

He tweeted that “in a democratic country, one does not arrest the leaders of the opposition just as one does not call government ministers Nazis and a Jewish government the Third Reich. Neither does one call on citizens to launch a civil rebellion.”

Netanyahu’s tweet was a reference to signs that appeared at a demonstration in Tel Aviv last Saturday against his government’s judicial overhaul, which included the message: “1933: Yes, we can compare.”

But even before that, the war of words spilled over into the real world.

Zvi Hen, a 26-year-old man, was detained by police in Be’er Sheva after allegedly driving his car toward a crowd of protesters. They were standing on a sidewalk in front of the city’s university, holding signs and chanting slogans against the government plan to strip the judiciary of key powers.

The protesters said Hen attempted to ram into them. After being thwarted when his car hit an obstruction, they alleged that he emerged from his vehicle, denounced them and attempted to attack them.

Protesters and counterprotesters arguing at a demonstration against the government's plans to weaken the judiciary, in Be'er Sheva on Tuesday.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

On the same day, a member of Lapid’s party, former Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern, said he had received death threats. He told the police that a man who called his phone warned that if he continued to “incite” against the Netanyahu government, a grenade would be thrown at his home.

Stern called on members of Netanyahu’s government to condemn all expressions of violence and to “lower the heat” when it comes to using “dangerous and inciteful” words to describe the opposition.

In response to the day’s events, Lapid tweeted: “This is how democracy collapses, in one day. [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben-Gvir says they will use anti-fascists against our demonstrators; MK Fogel says Gantz and I should be arrested and thrown in jail for treason; and at the university they are trying to run over our students because they’re protesting and exercising their right to freedom of expression. We will not let them trample us and our beloved country.”

Along with Gantz, Lapid has called the government’s moves to radically overhaul the judicial system a “political coup” and vowed to fight them in the streets.

The growing tension and fiery exchanges between the government and opposition has only increased fears of violence in the coming days. All eyes are now on a planned protest against the government’s controversial reforms, set to take place in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

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