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Israeli official warns against inciting violence

by The New York Times | June 7, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

JERUSALEM -- Fears of renewed unrest in Israel heightened over the weekend, leading the country's internal security director to issue a rare public warning about what he called rising levels of incitement after rightist efforts to derail progress toward a new coalition government.

Far-right Jewish activists announced plans for a provocative march through Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Adding to the tensions, Israeli police Sunday detained a pair of Palestinian siblings whose activism and media appearances recently drew a wave of international attention to the displacement of Palestinians from east Jerusalem, forming the backdrop to the recent conflict in Gaza.

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The events raised the specter of a new wave of turmoil in Israel and the occupied territories, just days before the Israeli parliament is expected to hold a vote of confidence in a fragile new government whose formation would force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leave office after 12 years.

The new coalition is formed from eight ideologically diffuse parties drawn from the far left to the hard right and would include, for the first time in Israeli history, an independent Arab party.

Supporters of the coalition fear that further political turbulence might prompt some of its hard-right members to drop out at the last minute, by fanning concerns among some ultranationalist members about serving with leftists and Arabs. Negotiations to form the coalition nearly collapsed during the recent Gaza conflict for similar reasons.

In recent days, Netanyahu and his right-wing supporters piled pressure on ultranationalist members of the coalition, attempting to persuade them to reverse course by accusing them of betraying the country. Netanyahu's party, Likud, published the private address of a leading coalition lawmaker. And hundreds of right-wing protesters picketed the homes of several wavering coalition members.

Some analysts and commentators have compared the atmosphere to the time preceding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the former prime minister who was killed by a Jewish extremist in 1995 after leading peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Against this background, Nadav Argaman, director of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, made a rare public intervention Saturday night, warning of discourse that is "liable to be interpreted by certain groups or by individuals as one that permits violent and illegal activity that is liable, heaven forbid, to reach mortal injury."

Without specifying any politicians, Argaman added: "It is our duty to come out with a clear and decisive call to stop immediately the inciting and violent discourse. The responsibility for calming spirits and reining in the discourse rests on all of our shoulders."

The police have assigned escorts to four of the seven members of the coalition's main ultranationalist party, Yamina, most recently Sunday morning.

On Sunday, Netanyahu appeared to respond to Argaman at a meeting for Likud lawmakers. He condemned incitement but warned against curbing free speech and lamented provocations against his own family.

"The principle is clear -- incitement and violence will always be out of bounds," Netanyahu said, according to Kann, a state-funded broadcaster. "But freedom of expression is not incitement. It is impossible to treat the words of the right as incitement and the words of the left as freedom of expression."

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