JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The head of Israel’s internal security services on Saturday issued a rare warning about possible violence during one of the most politically charged times in decades, with the country on the verge of toppling the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, its oldest leader.
Netanyahu faces the prospect of the end of his 12-year tenure as prime minister after centrist Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid on Wednesday announced that he had succeeded in forming a governing coalition following the election March 23.
The new government, which has yet to be sworn in, is an unlikely patchwork of left, liberal, right-wing, nationalist and religious parties, as well as – for the first time in Israel’s history – an Islamist Arab party .
Netanyahu in online publications warned that the partnership was “a dangerous leftist government.”
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Some right-wing groups are angry with Naftali Bennett, leader of a small ultra-nationalist party set to replace Netanyahu in a power-sharing pact with Lapid, garnering numerous posts attacking him on social media.
Before the election, Bennett had promised he would not join centrist Lapid, or any Arab party in a coalition.
“We have recently identified an increase in increasingly extreme violent and inciting rhetoric, especially on social media,” Shin Bet security chief Nadav Argaman said in an unnamed statement.
“This speech can be interpreted among certain groups or individuals, as speech authorizing violent and illegal activities that can even cause physical harm,” he said.
Since Bennett announced he was teaming up with Lapid, the security services have stepped up his protection with right-wing protests organized near the homes of his party members, hoping to prevent them from joining the government.
Argaman called on political and religious leaders to show responsibility and tone down potential incentives. His warning reminded some in Israel of the days before the 1995 assassination of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was gunned down by a Jewish ultra-nationalist for making a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. .
The Israeli left has for years blamed Netanyahu, then opposition leader, for playing a role in the incitement leading up to the assassination. Netanyahu vehemently dismissed the accusation and has repeatedly condemned Rabin’s murder.
Lapid and Bennett have said they hope their “unity government” will reduce deep political divisions among Israelis and end hatred. A poll by Israel’s N12 television station Meet the Press on Saturday showed that 46% of Israelis support the Bennett-Lapid government, 38% would prefer another election – the fifth in about two years – and 15% did not vote. preference.
Tensions could escalate further this week, as a Jewish right-wing march is expected to pass through the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City. Eleven days of intense fighting erupted last month between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, sparked by Israeli-Palestinian clashes in Jerusalem, in and around the Old City. A similar march, the route of which was diverted at the last minute, took place the day the fighting broke out.
In the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, a nearby flashpoint, in East Jerusalem, where the potential eviction of Palestinians by Jewish settlers played a major role in the build-up of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict, scuffles broke out Saturday.
Al Jazeera media network said one of its reporters, Givara Budeiri, was assaulted and arrested by Israeli police while covering a protest there.
A police spokesperson said Budeiri assaulted police officers and refused to identify himself. Images posted online showed Budeiri, clad in a press vest, being pulled and pushed as she was taken away by three or four officers. Al Jazeera also said the journalist’s camera was broken.
Al Jazeera said the journalist was released hours later and was banned from entering Sheikh Jarrah for 15 days.
(Supplementary report by Zainah El-Haroun in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; edited by Bill Berkrot and Marguerita Choy)
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