Police minister: Fellow members of government made me ‘the enemy’ of settlers

Omer Barlev makes accusation after revealing he has round-the-clock security following threats by Jewish Israelis

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, November 9, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, November 9, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev on Monday accused fellow ministers of making him “the enemy” of West Bank settlers, after revealing that he has been given round-the-clock protection due to threats against him by Jewish Israelis.

“They came out against me and made me the enemy of all the settlers,” he said during a Labor party faction meeting at the Knesset.

Asked by a reporter if he was concerned for his safety, Barlev said he wasn’t.

The minister, a member of the left-wing Labor, caused a storm earlier this month when he said he had discussed “settler violence” with a visiting American diplomat. Critics, including Barlev’s right-wing coalition partners, have accused him of generalizing from the actions of a few extremists to condemn an entire community.

Barlev said three ministers were to blame, in an apparent reference to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana and Communications Minister Yoaz Handel.

“Starting this morning I am under guard 24/7,” Barlev wrote on Twitter earlier Monday.

He did not specify the nature of the threats or who had made them.

“Following my determined campaign against the Arab crime families, I hoped that the moment would not arrive when one of them would threaten me personally. But that is not the case. I am not under threat from Arab criminals — I am threatened by Israeli Jews,” wrote Barlev, whose ministry is responsible for the police.

Barlev’s initial remark about the settlers and the subsequent pushback from the right follow a noted rise in violent attacks by Israeli extremists against Palestinians compared to previous years.

While no official figures have been released, the Shin Bet has reported a 50-percent rise in extremist Jewish attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank over the past year. Palestinian rights groups say the assailants are rarely prosecuted, reporting that the vast majority of cases are closed without indictments.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had tacitly joined other right-wing coalition members and opposition lawmakers who criticized Barlev for the remarks.

But Barlev pushed back, saying his critics were having difficulty “looking in the mirror,” and that settler violence was becoming an issue on the international stage.

At the time, a man was arrested for allegedly making Facebook threats against Barlev. The suspect, 27, wrote of Barlev, “I hope you get lynched, you traitor.”

Masked men, allegedly Israeli settlers, wield clubs during what eyewitnesses and police called an attack on Palestinians seeking to harvest olives near Surif, on November 12, 2021. (Credit: Shai Kendler)

Several coalition lawmakers have received stepped-up security in recent months, most of them right-wing lawmakers who have been accused of betrayal for teaming up with the left and the Arab Ra’am party.

Ra’am chief MK Mansour Abbas has also faced threats for joining the governing coalition, with the Knesset Guard ordering that he be provided a security detail. Abbas made history earlier in the year when he led his Islamist Ra’am into the coalition, which includes right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties.

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana has also been assigned additional security in the face of threats as he pushes ahead with profound reforms of Israel’s religious services that are deeply unpopular with the country’s ultra-Orthodox community. Kahana, a member of Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, is a strictly religious Orthodox Jew. He says his initiatives are aimed at strengthening Israel’s Jewish character.

Arab communities have seen a surge in violence in recent years, driven mainly, but not exclusively, by organized crime.

Arab Israelis blame police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars and violence against women. The community has also suffered from decades of neglect.

Barlev has vowed to deal with the issue, which again grabbed headlines Sunday, when a woman was killed in a car bomb attack in an Arab neighborhood of Ramle. The incident is suspected to be tied to warring crime families in the mixed Jewish-Arab city.

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