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February 14, 2023 11:15 am

Incitement’s Silent Threat

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avatar by Yoav Limor /


People hold a banner during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition and its proposed judicial reforms to reduce powers of the Supreme Court in Tel Aviv, Israel February 11, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen – The radicalization of the Israeli public discourse in recent weeks is troubling the Shin Bet security agency. 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.

In the discourse that has emerged in Israel, neither 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.

Online commentators have noted that Yitzhak Rabin despised the Supreme Court and the judicial system, but he obeyed them even when he paid a personal price and when he paid a political price.

MK Simcha Rothman, 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 Supreme Court rulings. The rhetoric that he used—“if the court rules that all redheads should be killed”—was so infantile and baseless that it raises questions about what is going on in his mind.

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Naturally, the principal concern is that verbal violence could 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. Lately, the discourse surrounding the prime minister has become even more extreme.

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. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Levin have also had security around them increased.

In the current toxic atmosphere, there are real threats coming from people acting “on behalf of.” This applies to the threat to the economy and the legal threat. We can already see early signs of it. Even if the CEOs of high-tech companies who have announced that they will take their 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 back”—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 investment, and how it helped foster the Abraham Accords with the countries of the region.

Even less has been said about the legal side of things, but prominent jurists have warned about what could happen to Israel in international forums if the judicial reform passes and Western countries start to look at Israel differently. As President Macron of France hinted in his meeting with Netanyahu, they are concerned about those who do not share democratic principles with them.

This would be a development that would give the green light for Israelis to be hunted down in courts around 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 Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party—such as 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 Supreme Court, which is considered around 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 who ignores this is being dangerously irresponsible and only contributing to our deepening divide and the inherent threat it poses.

Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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