Analysis: Plan to ban Islamic Movement a non-starter

Group has wide-ranging grassroots support among middle class professionals, families.

Binyamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset on Monday (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Binyamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset on Monday
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government is considering banning the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, a move that is unlikely to be carried out in any significant way even if it passes muster with the Supreme Court.
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 groups is still alive and kicking.
The reason for this is that the movement has wide-ranging grassroots support among middle class professionals and families, and many of the poor that have benefited from the group’s social welfare network.
In the Israeli Arab city of Kafr Kasim, where the Islamic Movement is strong, it would require massive effort to dismantle the group’s support among the families, and from its supporting mosques in a city of over 20,000 people.
Adel Badir, who was elected mayor there last year with the Islamic Movement’s support, is from one of the town’s most influential families, along with six others: Sarsour, Issa, Taha, Amr, Frej and Beduin.
So any move against the Islamic Movement there could work to mobilize some of the powerful families against the government.
For this reason and others, it is unlikely that the Israeli government has the stomach for what would be required to enforce a ban of the group.
Zahin Jihan, the spokesman for the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel admitted as much to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Asked how he thinks the government could carry out such a ban in that it would require a massive security operation, Jihan responded, “You need to ask him [Netanyahu] this question, we are present in every village, town and household – everywhere.”
This effort seeks to delegitimize the movement and “therefore anyone who wants to ban the Islamic Movement will have to remove over a million Arabs,” he said.
Nohad Ali, a sociologist from the Western Galilee Academic College and the University of Haifa, who has done research on the Islamic Movement in Israel, told the Post that the government’s efforts to ban the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement are nothing new – some existed back in the 1990s.
“That this idea is being raised again is not surprising, as it is not new,” said Ali adding that Netanyahu is trying “to send a message that he is serious.”
Ali thinks that the prime minister “is not serious about this [idea], but is pushing it for populist motives.”
In addition, he argued, Netanyahu needs a boost in public support after his latest political setbacks on Iran, in peace talks, and in other areas.
Furthermore, “this decision will not progress,” it will not pass muster with the Supreme Court, he said.
In the end, this move will backfire and will only result in increasing the strength and popularity of the movement.
It will be viewed as the winner by the Arab public and it will rally to its defense, he said.
The setbacks of Islamist movements in Syria, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s in Egypt, weakened the Islamist movement in Israel, asserted Ali, pointing out that a move to outlaw the group will allow the northern movement to regain lost popularity at the expense of the more pragmatic southern movement.
The structure of the Islamic Movement makes it difficult to ban since it is “made up of many organizations and if you close one, then there will just be another in its place,” Ali said.
“The Islamic Movement is a legitimate movement, with many supporters,” and Israel’s best policy option would be to allow it to function as a religious/cultural group if it is willing to play by the rules of the game, which it knows how to do.
Ali is confident that “the Islamic Movement is well aware of the rules and will not cross any red line nor resort to violence.”
However, the ideology of Israel’s Islamist group can be traced back to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, which has a history of mixing pragmatic moves with violent ones in order to achieve its long-term goal of establishing an Islamic Empire. The intermediate goal of the movement is to turn Israel into an Islamic state.
Brotherhood founder, Hassan al-Banna, wrote in Toward The Light, found in Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden that: “According to the Islamic understanding, the fatherland comprises [of]: (1) the particular country first of all; (2) then it extends to the other Islamic countries, for all of them are a fatherland and an abode for the Muslim; (3) then it proceeds to the first Islamic Empire, which the Pious Ancestors erected with their dear and precious blood and over which they raised God’s banner.”
And to achieve these goals it would be necessary to maintain secrecy so as not to arouse state authorities.
Richard P. Mitchell, in The Society of the Muslim Brothers, wrote: “In a remarkable statement, made in 1938 but published only after the revolution in 1952, Banna, informing a questioning youth of the ‘revolutionary’ nature of the organization in matters of both ‘reform’ and ‘liberation’, reminded him that in the face of ‘the law’, it was a mistake to be candid, and that secrecy was necessary in the beginning of any movement to maintain its solvency and assure its survival.”
Arik Rudnitzky, the project manager of the Konrad Adenauer Program at the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University, told the Post that the banning of the group raises two main issues: does it pass legal scrutiny, and is it practical? Rudnitzky believes that banning the Northern Branch would not be upheld by the Supreme Court and that “in any case, it is not registered like a football or any other organization,” but is based on “grassroots support.”
Some of the institutions that fall under the rubric of the overall movement are indeed registered, but “is it possible to outlaw the activities of an entire movement based on statements and political positions of the leaders of the movement?” he asked, “I doubt that this is possible.”
On the question if this is a practical solution, there could be some benefits. The mere statement by the prime minister that he intends to ban the group signals to the group that it has crossed a redline and “needs to be more careful.”
However, on the other hand, the group will gain in popularity in the eyes of its supporters and by the Arab public.