Emotions are running high over the proposed reform of the judicial system by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, led by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Simcha Rothman, but there can be no excuse for the level of incitement and rhetoric that we have been witnessing in the last few days.
On Friday, Col. (ret.) Ze’ev Raz, a decorated former Israel Air Force pilot, posted on Facebook, “If a sitting prime minister assumes dictatorial powers, he is a dead man, it’s that simple, along with his ministers and followers.”
“If a sitting prime minister assumes dictatorial powers, he is a dead man, it’s that simple, along with his ministers and followers.”Ze’ev Raz
He continued by arguing that Israel should integrate din rodef (a concept in Jewish law that permits the killing of an individual who intends to kill or harm others). It was a phrase heard among right-wing extremists during the Oslo Accords period at the time of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
“My din rodef rules that if my country is taken over by a person, foreigner or Israeli, who leads it in an undemocratic manner, it is obligatory to kill him... it is better to kill the criminals first,” Raz said. “…. There’s an obligation to kill them.”
Although Raz later deleted the post and apologized, it is extremely disturbing that he thought it would be acceptable to share such a message on social media in the first place. There is a difference between freedom of expression and disseminating incitement, and Raz crossed that red line.
This is not a way to fight a perceived threat to democracy.
On the contrary, threatening a democratically elected leader represents a clear danger to the democratic nature of the country. Protesters on the Left cannot be complacent. Violence is not restricted to one side of the political map.
Raz should definitely know better. He was an IAF flight school educator who commanded the 1981 bombing raid on the Osirak reactor in Iraq but his comments were anything but heroic and do not benefit the country in any way.
Raz’s comments came shortly after David Hodak, a lawyer participating in a panel on the reform, was quoted as saying: “If someone forces me to live in a dictatorship and I don’t have a choice, I won’t hesitate to use live fire.”
Meanwhile, at Saturday night’s mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, Mayor Ron Huldai told the crowd: “If words end, the actions will begin.”
In response to Raz’s comments, Netanyahu said in a statement, “It seemed that all boundaries had been crossed by threats against elected officials and myself, but this is not the case, because we have now heard and seen an explicit threat to murder the prime minister of Israel.
“I know that there is a debate over what endangers democracy, but this is not something that is subject to dispute – this truly endangers democracy.”
“I know that there is a debate over what endangers democracy, but this is not something that is subject to dispute – this truly endangers democracy.”Benjamin Netanyahu
Police have opened an investigation of Raz and we hope that all the relevant bodies will take the matter seriously. Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ronen Bar spoke to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Saturday night regarding the “increase in violent and inciting discourse against elected officials in general, and the prime minister in particular” and the two agreed on a “zero tolerance” approach.
Incitement and death threats are not acceptable. Period. Not from the Right and nor from the Left. That should be clear to all, especially in a country that has already suffered the trauma of a prime minister’s assassination.
Words can kill and toxic rhetoric is dangerous. It is legitimate to demonstrate, to protest against the government and the prime minister at its head. It is not legitimate – or moral – to call for violence or to create an atmosphere in which someone might get the impression that violence is an acceptable solution.
There is no way to justify incitement in the name of defending democracy. People need to stop, think, and step back from the edge of an abyss before it’s too late.
We call on all sides to take immediate steps to lower the tension. It is time for the prime minister to engage in a real dialogue to ease concerns over the reforms he is planning.
The country needs to work together to ensure that it does not fall apart.