Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to outlaw an Islamic group in Israel, saying it was being behind a series of weekend rallies in support of kidnapping IDF soldiers.
Speaking at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he had turned to the “proper authorities” to look into blacklisting the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.
Several hundred Arab Israelis demonstrated on Friday in Umm al-Fahm, in northern Israel, against Israel’s operation in the West Bank to locate three Israeli teens who were kidnapped June 12. The IDF has arrested hundreds of people and five Palestinians have died in clashes with Israeli forces.
“Over there weekend there was a demonstration in Umm al-Fahm in which infuriating calls and support for abducting IDF soldiers were heard,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the cabinet meeting. “Most Israeli Arabs do not take this view and I call on their leaders to be courageous and strongly condemn such calls.”
A senior official of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement on Sunday denied his group had sponsored the rally.
In Umm al-Fahm protesters blocked off a road and threw rocks at police, who used tear gas and sound bombs to disperse them without making any arrests.
The Islamic Movement is led by extremist Arab-Israeli cleric Sheikh Raed Salah, who has been convicted in Israel on a number of charges, including incitement and spitting at a police officer. The organization is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance because of its perceived links with the militant Hamas movement that controls the Gaza Strip, as well as with other Muslim groups worldwide.
However, Netanyahu hinted that may not be the case for very long.
“In many cases, those behind such calls and demonstrations are from the northern branch of the Islamic Movement,” he said. “It constantly preaches against the State of Israel and its people publicly identify with terrorist organizations such as Hamas. Therefore, I directed the relevant authorities to consider declaring the northern branch of the Islamic Movement an illegal organization. This would give the security authorities significant tools in the struggle against this movement.”
Arab Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi (Raam-Tal) blasted Netanyahu for trying to outlaw the group, accusing the prime minister of trying to exploit the kidnapping of three Israeli teens.
“The Islamic movement represents the fabric of Palestinian society in Israel, and we will not agree to have it outlawed,” he said according to Israeli news source Ynet.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called on the courts to deal with the matter “immediately and effectively to make it clear that Israeli society will not tolerate such incitement.”
In May, Netanyahu also moved to have officials outlaw the group, but the Justice Ministry opposed the move, Haaretz reported.
In the past, Palestinian terror groups have abducted Israeli citizens and soldiers and traded them for prisoners in Israeli jails. In 2011, Hamas parlayed Gilad Shalit, whom the group had held captive for over five years, into a deal to free over a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including murder convicts and high-risk security prisoners.
Israel has re-arrested a number of those released in the deal in the course of its search for the kidnapped teens, and one of the former prisoners has been charged with the murder of an off-duty Israeli policeman near Hebron in April.
AFP contributed to this report.