A day after the head of the Shin Bet security service urged politicians to express themselves responsibly and avoid radicalized discourse amid rising incitement, Likud MK May Golan on Sunday called the right-wing leaders of the so-called change bloc “suicide bombers.”
Golan used the phrase repeatedly during an interview with the Knesset Channel, doubling down on her assertion as the two anchors urged her to retract it, while qualifying the statement by saying there was still a “world of difference” between the two politicians and jihadist terrorists.
“The most dangerous thing about public leaders is people who have nowhere to go back to, and [prime minister-designate] Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar have no place to go back to,” Golan said, in reference to the perception that the heads of Yamina and New Hope, respectively, have plummeted in popularity since allying with the center-left to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power. She said that “while there is a world of difference, I would compare them to suicide bombers.”
Asked by the anchor if she was not going too far, Golan replied, “No, and I’ll tell you why… They’re like terrorists who don’t believe in anything anymore, who go out on their suicide mission, and even if they know it’s their death sentence, they don’t care because they’re Shiites.”
Golan was apparently referring to a political death sentence, but did not clarify the matter.
The anchors repeatedly suggested that Golan take back her statement, but she refused. Mentioning the biblical Samson, Golan said the two had decided “to die with the Philistines,” an expression for a person committing suicide to destroy one’s enemies.
When an anchor pointed out the potentially dire consequences of her accusations — “suicide bombers are hit with targeted assassinations” — Golan responded: “No, we can’t always do a targeted assassination.”
Repeating her use of the phrase “suicide bombers,” Golan added: “I will not take back these words.”
Watch the interview (Hebrew) here:
"מחבלים מתאבדים" – זו ההשוואה שבחרה @GolanMay לתיאור מהלכיהם של @naftalibennett ו-@gidonsaar: "להבדיל אלף אלפי הבדלות, הם כמו מחבלים שלא מאמינים יותר בכלום, יוצאים למשימת התאבדות, וגם אם הם יודעים שיש להם גזר דין מוות, זה לא מעניין אותם" pic.twitter.com/dBCw6x33yu
— ערוץ כנסת (@KnessetT) June 6, 2021
On Saturday, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman issued a rare warning against rising incitement and hate speech on social media, and the danger that it will spark political violence, as the coalition that aims to oust Netanyahu appeared increasingly likely to be sworn in.
“We have recently identified a serious rise and radicalization in violent and inciting discourse, specifically on social media,” Argaman said, warning that such online speech could lead some groups or individuals to take violent action and even harm others.
“This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals as one that allows violent and illegal activity and could even lead to harm to individuals,” he said.
As the so-called “change government” has become increasingly likely, right-wing social discourse has become increasingly alarmist, with frequent declarations that the government bringing together the right, center, and left could doom Israel and bring about dark times; angry protests outside politicians homes; the burning of political posters; and allegations of treason issued via traditional and social media.
Prime minister-designate Bennett and his partner at the helm of the right-wing Yamina party, Ayelet Shaked, have come under intense attacks from others on the right for their decision to join the so-called “change government,” and have had their security increased due to the potential threats to their safety. Netanyahu has declared that the new government endangers the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces.
Argaman said politicians, public opinion leaders, religious figures, and educators across the political spectrum must speak clearly against any violence.
“It is our duty to come out with a clear and decisive call for an immediate cessation of the inciting and violent speech. The responsibility for restraining the discourse rests on the shoulders of us all,” he added.
Channel 13 reported that the security establishment is concerned at the possibility of “physical harm” to Bennett and members of his party, “religious Zionists who are facing… calls for physical violence against them.”
An unnamed security official told the TV station: “We are familiar with this: Somebody will read this [material castigating the planned new government] and will think that he has to ‘save the country’ — that if the change government is established, the Zionist project will be over — and will take action.”
Argaman and the Shin Bet fear that somebody will “misinterpret” the criticism of the planned change government, the report said, “will grab a weapon, will carry out a violent act, and will harm either Bennett or one of the MKs” heading into the change government.
The report said the Shin Bet does not have any specific alerts regarding concrete threats to Bennett or members of his party, but that Argaman chose to sound the alarm over the fear that “we are getting closer and closer to 1995, to the months before the Rabin assassination.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu once again tore into his rivals, who he claimed seek to form a “dangerous left-wing government,” claiming that if approved, the coalition would be the result of “the greatest election fraud” in Israel’s history.
At a faction meeting of his Likud party, Netanyahu said he condemned all incitement and violence, “even when others are silent when incitement toward us runs rampant.”
“The principle must be clear and uniform for everyone: Incitement and violence — and incitement to violence — will always be out of bounds,” he said.
Netanyahu charged that right-wingers were being singled out unfairly for criticizing their political opponents.
“Criticism by the right can’t be treated as incitement and criticism by the left as a legitimate act of free speech. This is an effort to frame the right as something violent and dangerous to democracy,” he said.