Shin Bet head said to warn leaders over ‘growing potential for violence’

In series of conversations that included PM, justice minister, president and opposition leader, Ronen Bar requests: ‘Do everything to calm the climate’

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, November 6, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, November 6, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar spoke to top leaders in recent days to warn them of the need to calm the public discourse over the government’s contentious legislation to overhaul the judiciary, according to multiple reports Monday.

According to Channel 12, Ynet and other outlets, Bar spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the past few days, telling them that “the atmosphere is heating up.”

Bar was said to have warned them that “according to a situational assessment conducted by the Shin Bet, there is growing potential for violence and escalation as the legislation advances,” and therefore urged them “to do everything to calm the climate.”

The reports said Bar said similar things to opposition leader Yair Lapid, who has recently had his security detail boosted due to a rising number of threats against him. The Shin Bet chief also said as much to President Isaac Herzog.

Ynet said that a similar conversation was held between Bar and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

All leaders addressed by Bar were asked to reduce inflammatory rhetoric, for fear of a politically fueled attack against an elected representative.

On Saturday, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warned that the current political climate could lead to deadly violence, and announced the formation of a special team tasked with combatting the increase in incidents of incitement.

Protesters are removed from a Knesset debate on the coalition’s first judicial reform bill, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This is an opportunity to tell everyone to breathe, calm down, to discuss, and not to become violent in words or deeds… The State of Israel has already seen harm done to public figures,” Shabtai told Channel 12, referring to the 1995 assassination of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

A police statement on Saturday announced that a newly established task force would “work to monitor and investigate threats and incitement to violence on social media and on any other media platform… The Israel Police will not allow violent discourse that incites violence and harm to public figures or any person.”

Both security officials are sounding the alarm given deepening political divisions over the government’s plans to transform the judicial system, asserting political control over judicial appointments and massively curbing the oversight powers of the High Court of Justice.

In a recent television address, Herzog urged the opposing sides to hold a dialogue on potential reforms, while warning that the country was on the verge of “societal collapse” from the tensions. Herzog called on the coalition to pause its legislative push to do so, which it has refused to do, leading the opposition to refuse to hold negotiations while the bills advance.

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