Former combat pilot who implied Netanyahu deserves death apologizes to protesters

Zeev Raz, who led celebrated 1981 mission against Iraqi nuclear reactor, says he disagrees with threatening statement he shared online

Anti-government activist Zeev Raz speaks to Channel 12 news, February 6, 2023. (Screenshot/Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Anti-government activist Zeev Raz speaks to Channel 12 news, February 6, 2023. (Screenshot/Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A prominent anti-government activist on Monday walked back a social media post in which he appeared to justify the potential assassination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and apologized to the protest movement for the damage caused by the post.

Zeev Raz, a former combat pilot who led the air force squadron in the celebrated 1981 mission to bomb Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, shared a Facebook post on Friday that said, “If a prime minister stands up and assumes dictatorial powers for himself, he deserves to die, it’s as simple as that.”

If a leader behaves “in a dictatorial way, there’s an obligation to kill them,” the post said, without mentioning Netanyahu by name. Anti-government protesters accuse the Netanyahu government of planning to subvert Israel’s democratic system by remaking the judiciary.

Raz’s post sparked harsh condemnation from the government and a police investigation against him for suspected incitement and making threats. On Saturday Raz also attempted to retract the statement.

Raz, who was a prominent figure in the anti-Netanyahu Balfour protest movement in 2020 and 2021, told Channel 12 in a Monday interview that he had not written the “very extreme” post himself and that he disagreed with it, despite sharing it.

“I put up a lot of posts. Some of them I don’t agree with that express an opinion different from my own, and I share them because they’re interesting, because they’re provocative, they’re important,” he said.

“If it had said that we need to go and murder the prime minister right now, or something like that, of course I wouldn’t post it,” he said. “That’s clear incitement and I wouldn’t share it.”

“It was talking about a future situation — and [the author] retracted this too — that we’re going to a dictatorship, and what would need to happen then,” Raz said. “The text was out of place, and that’s why I took it down, and that’s why I expressed reservations about it.”

Added Raz: “The prime minister in Israel, as a rule, is of course not deserving of death, and not just him. An Israeli is not deserving of death and we don’t have a death penalty.”

Students and teachers protest against government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on February 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Raz apologized to the protest movement for sharing the post and said the statement should not harm the efforts opposing the Netanyahu-led government. Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest coalition policies, as well as smaller demonstrations including limited, mostly symbolic worker strikes.

“I’m sorry about that. I think it’s a mistake, and I wrote that explicitly, not long after I put up that post,” he said of damage caused to the protest movement. “This cannot get in the way of our concerns and that’s why someone wrote that post, not me, about the direction the country is going. It’s very dangerous.”

“I took down the post and wrote that I retract it and am against those words,” he said.

He said he was well treated by the police — “the conversation took place in a pleasant atmosphere” — and said that they accepted that he hadn’t written the post himself.

The Facebook post had insinuated to Raz’s followers that the Jewish religious principle of din rodef, allowing the extrajudicial killing of an individual who intends to kill or harm others, could apply to a prime minister in the case of a dictatorship, as well as to his cabinet ministers and followers.

Justifying the claim, the post appeared to argue that allowing the controversial judicial overhaul to move forward would result in “a lot of innocent dead, and it’s better to kill the criminals first.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu blamed opposition parties for the incident, saying they were supporting “irresponsible incitement” against him that, he warned, was threatening democracy.

In public statements at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told ministers that the incident was “an explicit threat to assassinate a prime minister in Israel.”

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi of Netanyahu’s Likud party filed a police complaint against Raz on Sunday morning. Raz met with police investigators later in the day.

He told Channel 12 that the meeting had been held in “a good atmosphere” and that he had explained that he had not written the post himself and didn’t agree with it.

Meanwhile, the person that Raz said he was quoting in the controversial post, Prof. Avshalom Elitzur, published a lengthy explanation on Facebook as a follow-up to his remarks.

“A prime minister is replaced only in elections, motions of no confidence, etc., that is to say — only in a democratic way,” he wrote. “Therefore, if a prime minister arises and, God forbid, abolishes democracy… then either that prime minister will not be replaced by government or, in the absence of democracy, will be replaced in an undemocratic manner.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity party chief Benny Gantz slammed Raz’s post.

“I strongly condemn in every way the incitement and calls for the killing of Netanyahu. This battle is for the soul of the nation. Incitement and violence only harm the fight to save the country,” Lapid tweeted. “I call on all those who love this country to protest, go out to the streets, but keep the rule of law — don’t resort to violence.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid attends a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government and its proposed judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on January 21, 2023. (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

Gantz shared a similar sentiment, adding: “No one has a license to incite, no matter how much they may have contributed to the country.”

The Netanyahu coalition is pushing a dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary. Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as the weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, and private companies.

Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen democracy rather than hasten its end, and that his government was carrying out the will of the people.

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