Sheikh Raed Salah .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The move by the government to ban the northern branch of the Islamic Movement is unlikely to be carried out in a complete fashion, since it would require a massive crackdown on thousands of Arab citizens.
The northern and southern branches of the movement are highly integrated into Arab society and have the support of most Muslim citizens.
Even Christian MK Basel Ghattas from the nationalist Balad party came out in the movement’s support.
The Islamic Movement’s northern branch also can count on support from the more pragmatic – not moderate – southern branch, which has decided to play the political game and has the UAL party in the Knesset as part of the Joint List.
Both groups operate nationally, seeking to Islamize Arab society, and eventually the state as well, just like other Muslim Brotherhood movements.
Since the southern branch is not being banned, it will be difficult for security authorities to differentiate between low and mid-level members of each branch, allowing some northern branch members to appear as part of the legal southern branch.
The Islamic Movement is also highly intertwined with leading Arab families and its social welfare network will continue to function under the aegis of the southern movement or it will move underground or use front organizations to hide from the authorities.
Fully disbanding the movement would require a massive security operation on par with what Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has undertaken against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – imprisoning its members, preventing their supporters from preaching in mosques, and so forth.
And even after months of security operations and killings of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group is still alive and kicking.
Elie Rekhess, a top scholar of Arabs in Israel, who is currently the crown visiting professor in Israel Studies at Northwestern University, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that the Islamic Movement is very powerful within Arab society and banning it is going to be viewed by the Muslim community in Israel as an assault on Islam.
“This ban represents a watershed in the state’s relationship with the Arab population and will be looked back as a transformational moment,” he said.
“The move is likely going to serve as a catalyst for growing unity within the Arab political elites in Israel,” pulling together leaders from the various political and ideological streams, said Rekhess, who formerly was a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, heading the Konrad Adenauer program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation in Israel.
Asked if he sees the decision as wise, Rekhess responded that he concurs with previous reports that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had been against the move.
According to a Channel 10 report last month, the domestic spy agency believes that banning the group increases the risk of an escalation in Jewish- Arab tensions.
In addition, Rekhess noted that banning the group would drive it underground, making it more difficult to monitor.
Arik Rudnitzky, the current project manager of the Konrad Adenauer Program, said this is the third time Israel has taken a step to ban an Arab movement.
The first group outlawed by the government was Al-Ard (The Land) movement in 1964, and the next time was in 1980, when it banned the National Coordination Committee.
These two nationalist Arab movements rejected the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.
“Over the past 10 years, [Northern Branch leader Raed] Salah has been given the nickname “Sheikh al-Aksa,” which hints at his public role he has taken upon himself to protect al-Aksa Mosque from damaging its holiness,” said Rudnitzky.
The government viewed Salah’s activities as harsh moves against Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.
“The question is whether Salah’s political Islam can exist in a country that defines itself as Jewish and democratic,” he said. “For now, it seems the country’s democratic tolerance has come to an end.”