Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Nadav Argaman on Sunday for issuing a public warning that the current atmosphere of incitement could lead to bloodshed.
Argaman on Saturday condemned language that might be perceived as “one who endorses violent and illegal activities that could even lead to harming individuals.”
Without mentioning Argaman, whom he appointed, by name, Netanyahu complained of a double standard in which critical statements by figures on the Right are considered incitement, while those of the Left are seen as legitimate.
“Incitement is a call for violence,” he said. “For a long time, there have been such horrible calls, including clear calls to murder me and my family, that have been met with silence in the public discourse and in the press. People feel cheated,” and are responding to that feeling toward the incoming coalition and they “must not be shut up."
“Do not be afraid to stick it to them,” he said. “It is part of the scam. Do not be afraid to tell the truth.”
Later in the evening, Netanyahu criticized those who took issue with his comments saying he was inciting violence, calling it “ridiculous political correctness.”
“The Black Flags that are funded by all the left-wing organizations in Israel and abroad... call for my death and the death of my wife and my children,” Netanyahu said. “Criticism from the Right is seen as incitement. Rabbi [Haim] Druckman’s letter is a letter for violence? That’s a joke. But every criticism of the Left, even when it calls for death, is seen as legitimate.”
Indeed, a letter signed by well-known haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and religious-Zionist rabbis, including Druckman, spread on social media and was widely criticized as encouraging incitement.
“This government is completely contrary to the will of the people as expressed emphatically in the last election,” the letter said. “Every effort must be made to prevent this government from being formed. It’s not too late.”
After a massive wave of backlash for the letter, Druckman told Channel 12 he “would not have imagined that ‘every effort’ means doing something violent. Anyone who knows me knows that’s not what I meant.”
Yamina head Naftali Bennett criticized Netanyahu for telling his supporters “not to be afraid to stick it to them.”
“‘Stick it to them’ is to harass an MK in her car and her kids on their way from school,” he said. “It’s getting people fired up. It’s swearing and threatening. Not all opposition to the government is incitement. In my years in politics, I’ve learned that leaders must be able to handle criticism. But there is a fine line between criticism and worrisome behavior.
“Over the last several weeks there has been a well-funded, managed campaign to pressure Yamina and New Hope MKs and break them, to get them to vote against a new government. In this effort, all means are kosher.”
This comes as the Knesset’s sergeant at arms said Yamina MKs Nir Orbach and Idit Silman would be receiving security details amid a wave of threats they have been receiving. Orbach and Silman reportedly have been teetering between voting against or in support of the coalition led by Bennett and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid.
Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked has also been assigned a security detail, and since last week the Shin Bet has provided Bennett with prime-ministerial-level security detail.
Silman announced she would be supporting the “change bloc” in forming a coalition with center and left-wing parties. Orbach has yet to formally announce his decision.
Following the tense back-and-forth on incitement, Likud MK May Golan was criticized on Sunday for comparing Bennett and New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar to suicide bombers while speaking to the Knesset Channel.
“Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar have nowhere else to go,” she said. “I compare them to suicide bombers. The Shin Bet head can continue saying whatever he wants. They are like terrorists who don’t believe in anything anymore. They go out to their suicide mission, and even if they know they have a death sentence, they don’t care.”
The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is scheduled to meet on Monday morning to discuss the issue of incitement and extremism in the public sphere amid Argaman’s warning. The committee, headed by MK Orna Barbivai (Yesh Atid), will discuss the upcoming flag parade, which is an additional security concern.
The parade passes through the Old City of Jerusalem and takes place every year on Jerusalem Day. It was interrupted last month by clashes between police and Arab-Israelis, and by the onset of war with Hamas. The organizers postponed it until Thursday.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a briefing on Sunday to discuss the flag parade amid warnings by both Israeli politicians and Hamas against allowing the event to take place, especially so shortly after the Hamas war.
Prominent Likud leaders spoke out against incitement on either side of the political spectrum.
“I join the calls of Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, who warns of ‘[incitement] that may harm human life,’” Finance Minister Israel Katz said. “You can have a sharp argument without crossing dangerous lines. We all have a responsibility to act this way.”
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin told MKs at the Likud faction meeting: “Our responsibility is to ensure that our discourse will be respectful and free of all incitement, unlike what has been done to Netanyahu over the years.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.