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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Sunday that Israeli democracy has been threatened by right-wing extremists, who lightly wounded left-wing academic Ze'ev Sternhell last week by setting a pipe bomb outside the door of his Jerusalem apartment.
"An evil wind of extremism, of hatred, of malice, of violence, of lawlessness is blowing through certain sections of the Israeli public and threatens Israeli democracy," Olmert said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
This action has undermined "the ability of those entrusted by the State of Israel to make decisions and the ability to freely express one's views without fear of being attacked by wild, violent law-breakers, who disregard all frameworks of proper, democratic life," he said
Although the police have said they fear a new Jewish underground was responsible for the attack, they also said that the investigation into the attack was in the early stages and that it wasn't yet clear who the perpetrators were.
"Security bodies have been instructed to quickly investigate and bring to trial those responsible for what appears to be another [Jewish] underground [terrorist cell]," Olmert said.
Sternhell, an Israel Prize laureate and one of Israel's foremost political scientists, has taken a "sharp and uncompromising political line," said Olmert.
"Whoever planted the bomb... did so in order, perhaps, to kill him," speculated Olmert.
"It is impossible not to see a direct line between the murder of [Peace Now activists] Emil Grunzweig [in 1983], the awful murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the attack on Sternhell," said Olmert.
The Citizens' Committee for Samaria said in response that these kinds of statements and attitudes were what created divisions among Israeli society and would eventually lead it into a civil war.
But Olmert was not alone in his feelings. A number of ministers joined him in condemning Jewish extremist violence, particularly among settlers in the West Bank. The scope of their comments went beyond Sternhell's attack and touched on other acts of violence by settlers in the West Bank against the police, the army, Palestinians and West Bank activists.
According to a government source, among the issues the ministers raised was the government's failure to make good on its pledge to evacuate some 100 unauthorized outposts, a move which they said helped legitimize lawlessness in the West Bank.
Kadima Leader Tzipi Livni said she did not agree with Sternhell's views, but that the attack undermined the state's authority. "It's not surprising," she said, that those who would harm police and soldiers would seek other targets.
"Outside of the question of when to evacuate outposts, there is also the issue of the activities within the outposts, some of which are unimaginable," said Livni. It's important, she added, that the government take action and not be satisfied with just making statements. The question, she stressed, is how to bring the perpetrators to justice and punish them.
"There is a sense that there is no law and order in Judea and Samaria," Livni said.
Picking up on that point, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called for stiffer sentences for settlers and activists who break the law. Soldiers who catch settler offenders and turn them over to the police find that the suspects are released or given very light sentences. The same is true with the Palestinians, he said, and noted that the issue of housing demolition for Palestinian terrorists is still before the courts.
Given the time lag, should the courts decide to allow the demolition of the homes of terrorists involved in recent Jerusalem attacks, demolishing homes will have lost any relevancy in deterring further incidents, he said.
The statements in the cabinet were sharply condemned by settlers and right-wing activists as evidence of a further breakdown of relations in Israel between the settlers and the government.
Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel called it an unbelievable act of chutzpa for a prime minister like Olmert, who himself is under police investigation for alleged corruption, to charge that the settlers were the ones disturbing law and order in Israel.
"He does not [have] the moral right" to make those statements, said Marzel. "The government has no feeling for what is happening in Judea and Samaria," he added.
He added that Sternhell was not just a harmless academic and that a Ha'aretz piece he had written arguing that it would have been a better strategy for the Palestinians to execute terror attacks against the settlements rather than within the Green Line were incitement to murder.
"Words can kill," he said.
Nadia Matar of Women in Green said she felt the timing of both of the Sternhell attack and the cabinet condemnations were suspicious. She was certain she said that it all a ploy by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to discredit the Right by way of helping drum up support for an eventual withdrawal from parts of Judea and Samaria currently being negotiated by Olmert and Livni.
In recent weeks the media has reported that Israel could give up as much as 98 percent of the West Bank. On Sunday morning, Army Radio reported that Israel intended to withdraw from the Jordan Valley as part of a final status agreement.
Such withdrawals, said Matar, would destroy Israel and the Zionist state.
Matar said the events of the past few days reminded her of when Shin Bet operative Avishai Raviv was accused of creating false extremist opposition groups to discredit the Right.
"My hope and belief is that the majority of the Israeli public won't fall for this kind of persecution," said Matar.
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