Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night harshly criticized what he said was a “growing wave” of threats directed at himself and other officials, after a leader of the anti-government protests appeared to call for his assassination.
“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,” said Netanyahu in a statement.
Netanyahu’s remarks came after former Israeli Air Force pilot Ze’ev Raz wrote on Facebook on Friday that, “If a prime minister rises and assumes dictatorial powers, he is a dead man, it’s that simple…. There’s an obligation to kill them.”
Raz, who flew one of the fighter jets that bombed Sadam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, has long been a figurehead in the anti-Netanyahu protest movement.
“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,” said Netanyahu on Saturday.
“I expect the law enforcement and security officials, who spoke out so clearly and sharply during the tenure of the previous government about phenomena that were much less serious, to come out—with the same severity and clarity— against this. I expect the law enforcement officials to take immediate action against those who are inciting to murder, and I expect the leaders of the opposition to speak out as vigorously and as strongly as I did,” he added.
In response, police said on Saturday night that they had opened a probe into Raz on “suspicion of incitement and threats.”
Raz was questioned by police on Sunday.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said, “I instructed the police to treat incitement that comes from left in the same way as if it came from the right. If a ‘hilltop youth’ [in Judea and Samaria] had written similar or even less serious things than he would have been arrested and placed in a detention center.”
Tens of thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Saturday night for the fifth consecutive week, ostensibly against the government’s judicial reform plan.
The proposal includes changing the way judges are selected so that the Knesset members will have majority say on the Judicial Selection Committee; passing an “override clause,” a law that would give legislators the power to reverse, or “override,” the Supreme Court when it strikes down laws; abolishing the legal justification of “reasonableness” by which the court can cancel Knesset decisions; and empowering ministers to hire and fire their own legal advisers.
Netanyahu has rejected as “baseless” claims by critics that the reforms would mark the end of the country’s democracy, and vowed to implement them “responsibly.”
“The truth is that the balance between the branches of government has been violated over the past two decades. This unusual phenomenon does not exist anywhere else in the world—not in the United States, not in Western Europe and not during Israel’s first 50 years of existence,” said Netanyahu.
Lawmaker Simcha Rothman, who is chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, expressed his openness to compromise on the proposed legislation at a press briefing hosted Thursday by the Jerusalem Center for Public Policy (JCPA).
“I am eager for a debate, I am eager for a discussion,” he said.