Democracies have a responsibility to defend themselves and are obligated to protect themselves from those who seek to undermine them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, following the announcement that the Security Cabinet outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
The northern branch seeks to undermine Israel, he said, adding that it incites to violence against innocent civilians, cooperates closely with Hamas and seeks to replace Israel with a caliphate.
“We have nothing against Islam,” Netanyahu said. “We have nothing against the Muslim citizens of Israel, who enjoy full equal rights, and the vast majority of whom are law abiding citizens. But we will continue to act against inciters, and those who encourage terrorism.”
Tuesday’s announcement of the Security Cabinet’s decision comes after weeks of intensive deliberations on the matter that began soon after the current wave of terrorism began in September.
Israel Radio reported on Tuesday that it had obtained documents showing that the Islamic Movement had received millions of shekels in recent years from Turkey, Kuwait and other countries.
Government spokesmen, including Netanyahu, have been charging for weeks that the organization is largely responsible for the incitement surrounding the Temple Mount, which is fueling the current round of terrorist attacks.
Netanyahu, who has been urging the move as one way to help quell the terrorism, issued a statement saying the ban means that anyone belonging to the organization or providing it any service will be committing a criminal offense and will be subject to imprisonment.
The cabinet’s decision also makes it possible to seize the organization’s property, he added.
Netanyahu said the northern branch is “a separatist-racist organization that does not recognize the institutions of the State of Israel, denies its right to exist and calls for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in its place. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement belongs to radical Islam and is part of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The two movements share an extremist ideology and a common goal – the destruction of the State of Israel.”
The leader of the northern branch, Raed Salah, emphatically rejected the decision, stating on Facebook, “Oh Muslims, Oh Arabs, Oh Palestinians everywhere, we will remain as we were, the protectors of Jerusalem and blessed al-Aksa Mosque until we meet Allah.”
“The government of Israel is a terrorist government,” he added, according to Channel 2.
Joint List MK Taleb Abu Arar, who is associated with the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, warned that the outlawing of the northern branch was a “declaration of war” against Israel’s Arab population, and that the government will bear responsibility for its actions. Fellow Joint List MK Basel Ghattas joined in his colleague’s criticism, calling the government “insane” and claiming the country deserves to be boycotted, as it has become a “fascist state.”
“Ban Zionism,” Ghattas demanded.
The Ta’al party, which is part of the Joint List and is represented by chairman MK Ahmad Tibi and MK Osama Sa’adi, called the move a “desperate” decision by “an extremist government which is responsible for the deterioration on the ground.”
Regarding the timing of the decision, they said, “There is no doubt that this is a cynical exploitation of the abominable crime in France.”
“The Ta’al party stands by the Islamic Movement’s struggle, which is a struggle of the entire Arab population,” they added.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel called the government’s decision “draconian and arbitrary.”
“The Israeli government uses the emergency regulations from the Mandatory period for the intensive and unprecedented oppression of a political movement, which has operated according to law for decades in Arab society,” the organization said.
It accused the government of deciding the matter without a trial or hearing.
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen said, “Outlawing the Islamic Movement is a dangerous political persecution and a severe assault on the Palestinian national minority’s freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly.”
“The leadership of the Arab community in Israel stands united in condemning this decision and warns against its dire consequences for the Arab citizens’ political activities and participation,” he said.
“Banning the Islamic Movement is strictly political and religious repression, and will cause severe harm to the religious, welfare, and educational services the movement provides to all Arab citizens.”
He added that the Arab leadership would initiate various protest activities, including calling for a general strike to protest this decision on Thursday, and “will likewise appeal to the relevant international bodies and organizations to protect our rights.”
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, said in a Knesset speech, “Netanyahu wants to re-brand the conflict as a religious conflict.”
“This is nothing more than anti-democratic, political persecution,” he added.
Another Israeli-Arab lawmaker, MK Haneen Zoabi, suggested Netanyahu was capitalizing on international security jitters after Islamists killed 132 people in Paris on Friday – charges the government denied.
University of Haifa sociology professor Sammy Smooha, who conducts regular surveys of Israeli Arabs, said, “Why outlaw the group when individual perpetrators can always be nabbed?” He said that while nine percent of his respondents cited the northern Islamic Movement as the group they most identified with, 42.2% expressed more generalized support for its ideas and charitable work in an often neglected community.
“This ban will cause friction and resistance,” Smooha asserted.
Netanyahu, as far back as June 2014, directed the relevant authorizes to weigh outlawing the group, following a protest it held in Umm el-Fahm that included calls to kidnap soldiers.
The Government Press Office released background information on the decision, saying the measure “is not directed in any way at Islam or at the general Arab-Israeli population, which overwhelmingly abides by the law and rejects incitement to violence and terrorist activities.
It also will not affect the southern faction of the Islamic Movement organization in Israel.”
According to this statement, the decision “is based on the threat that the organization poses to public order and its continuous incitement to violence and racism, resulting in a severe threat to life and limb.”
The statement also says “the northern movement, in collusion with Hamas, established two groups of activists – the Murabitun (for men) and the Murabitat (for women) – who are paid to create provocations and to harass Jews and other non-Muslims peacefully visiting the Temple Mount. The violent activities carried out by members of these groups have led to an increase in tensions on the Temple Mount.”
In September, the Murabitun and Murabitat were banned.
New developments in the northern branch’s behavior likely helped the state feel it will sustain the decision, even if it is challenged in a petition before the High Court of Justice.
Law enforcement has closed as many as eight different institutions affiliated with the Islamic Movement, but to no avail. The movement has successfully morphed its finances and alleged illegal activities under new umbrellas each time.
Further, the movement’s recent alleged connection to Hamas regarding increasing incitement activities both on and surrounding the Temple Mount is a newer development, which has had more destructive consequences in recent months.
The decision will stop the movement from being able to morph its finances and its activities on the Temple Mount, which the state had already recently attempted to stop.
Leader Salah has served prison sentences several times for inciting to violence and racism.
Salah’s most recent jail sentence of 11 months was suspended by Justice Salim Jubran last week, pending the outcome of his appeal.
Government officials said the decision to outlaw the northern branch was taken in the Security Cabinet earlier this month, and that the implementation was delayed “until we were ready to move.” The official noted that police raids of the group’s offices took place overnight. The official characterized as “speculative” reports that implementation of the move was linked to Friday’s attack in Paris, or was delayed until after Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.
The decision reportedly came despite objections voiced by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials concerned that the move might lead to an escalation of the violence.
The Jerusalem District Court last month rejected Salah’s appeal of the sentence he received in March for incitement in a 2007 speech.
Politicians on the Left and Right praised the Cabinet decision.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that “Israel has to set an example and be the arrowhead in the battle against radical Islam, whose emissaries we saw slaughter innocent people in Paris, New York, Madrid and Israel.”
Erdan said the northern branch, Hamas, Islamic State and other organizations are rooted in the same beliefs.
“The time has come to use all the tools the state has to fight terrorism and the inciters who cause it,” he added.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also drew a connection between Israel and the world, saying: “From Paris to Jerusalem – one war against terrorism.”
“Israel is moving from words to actions,” he stated. “We are demolishing terrorists’ homes, revoking residency status, and today we made the Islamic Movement illegal. Israel is leading the international battle of the free world against radical Islam.”
Bennett added that “we do not try to understand or speak to terrorists. We destroy terrorism with a heavy hand, and we will win.”
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said he had encouraged outlawing the northern branch for many years.
“A country that wants to defend itself cannot allow extremist movements to eat away at its foundations,” he said. “There is a difference between enlightenment and suicide, and the French are now learning it the hard way.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said banning the northern branch is “the first step in defending democracy in Israel.”
Herzog also called for anti-miscegenation organization Lehava, whose leader Benzi Gopstein and members have been convicted of racist crimes, to also be made illegal.
“Our democracy is under attack from left and right,” he added. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid also praised the ban.
“It cannot be that someone who incites and promotes terrorism inside the State of Israel can continue walking free on the streets and in mosques and promote his death wishes,” Lapid said. “All incitement must be met with a sharp and clear response.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said the ban should have happened long ago.
“The northern branch is a terrorist organization in every way, and only if it is formally treated as such can it be taken care of appropriately,” he stated.
Separately, two adults from Jaffa – including a leader of the local Islamic council and an Imam from a local mosque – were brought for a remand extension in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the day after they were arrested on suspicion of inciting violence at a series of recent protests in the city that descended into violence.
Both men were ordered kept in custody until Wednesday, while two juveniles from Jaffa arrested Monday on suspicion of incitement were given twoday remand extensions.
Announcing the arrests on Monday, police said the four suspects “incited the atmosphere at recent protests in Jaffa, leading to the throwing of rocks at motorists while endangering bystanders and damaging the public order.”
Following a violent protest in Jaffa in early October, police and politicians blamed political and religious leaders and in particular the Islamic Movement for inciting to violence and inflaming the situation in the mixed city.Ben Hartman, Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post staff and Reuters contributed to this report.