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'MKs have been facing horrific threats,' says party leader

Meretz MK flees her home after right-wing threats to her baby, protests outside

Prospective gov’t minister Tamar Zandberg comes under attack after article on right-wing site falsely claims she wants to imprison Chabad members who offer phylacteries to minors

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg at the Muqata'a compound, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, March 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg took her family out of their home Tuesday following a string of threats against her and her baby daughter, in the wake of false information published about her proposed legislation to restrict the proselytizing of minors.

The threats came amid protests outside Zandberg’s Tel Aviv home and as other politicians set to become ministers in the so-called change government to be headed by Yamina head Naftali Bennett have been targeted by right-wing activists.

Zandberg, who has been tapped to be environmental protection minister in the prospective coalition, which has yet to be finalized, came under attack after an article on the right-wing news bulletin 0404 site falsely claimed that her bill called for imprisoning Chabad members who offer children to tefillin (phylacteries) to don.

While the bill says nothing about tefillin — it seeks to limit intensive efforts to push minors into Orthodoxy without the presence of their parents — right-wing activists have mobilized against Zandberg following the report.

Protesters wear tefillin in front of MK Tamar Zandberg’s house, June 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Zandberg said on Tuesday morning that she had received “severe threats” sent to her via cellphone and social media, and was therefore staying home with her baby after the child was specifically mentioned in some of the threats.

“I’m at home because my baby’s name came up in messages that said to bring security guards because something is going to happen to her,” Zandberg told the Kan public broadcaster Tuesday morning.

But by Tuesday afternoon, with more threats circulating on social media — including an obituary notice pretending to announce Zandberg’s death — and a protest of people wearing tefillin taking place outside her home, the former Meretz leader decided to take her family to an undisclosed location.

Speaking to the Ynet news site, Zandberg’s partner Uri Zaki said he was “shaken to the core” by the threats made against their daughter.

Pointing the finger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Zaki charged that the incitement against Zandberg was a result of him targeting her in a Sunday speech slashing the potential new government.

“He mentioned her and the next day they were looking for something under the rug to target the incitement, and sent their stray dogs,” he said, referring to the article about her bill. “These are terrible people and there is nothing they will not do to stay in power… even inciting against my baby.”

Then-head of the Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg (R) casts her vote alongside her partner Uri Zaki at a Meretz party polling station in Jerusalem on February 14, 2019. (Flash90)

In his address, Netanyahu attempted to play on the concerns of right-wingers about having the left-wing Labor and Meretz in the emerging coalition, calling the diverse alliance a “left-wing government” that is “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state.”

“If it does occur, heaven forbid, think about who will be in the security cabinet: Yair Lapid, [Meretz head] Nitzan Horovitz, [Labor head] Merav Michaeli, and [Meretz MK] Tamar Zandberg,” he said. “What impact will that have on Israel’s deterrent capability? How will we look to our enemies? What will they say in Iran and Gaza? What will they do in Iran and Gaza? What will they say in the corridors of the administration in Washington?”

Zandberg is not expected to be appointed to the security cabinet.

Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz condemned the threats, writing on Twitter: “In recent days, Meretz MKs have been facing horrific threats. It is clear to us why this is happening and who is directing it.”

“This is a machine of incitement that is working frantically to blow up the formation of the government,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press coneference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also Tuesday, the Yisrael Beytenu party, which is part of the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties, said it had received a number of threatening calls in the past few hours. The party said some of the calls included “harsh threats of murder” toward staff at the right-wing secularist party’s headquarters and against its leader, Avigdor Liberman.

The emerging coalition has angered right-wing activists as it could put an end to 12 consecutive years of Netanyahu’s rule.

On Monday the Knesset Guard reportedly increased security around Yamina No. 2 MK Ayelet Shaked due to threats she received. Security around Yamina leader Naftali Bennett was already increased earlier this month in response to threats against his life, the party said at the time.

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