Public Security Minister Avi Dichter joined senior political officials on Thursday in condemning a pipe bomb attack on the home of left-wing activist and Haaretz columnist Professor Ze'ev Sternhell, saying that the incident called to mind the days of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Dichter described the event, which left Sternhell lightly wounded, an "assassination attempt" and a "nationalistic terror attack perpetrated, in all likelihood, by Jews, which pushes our society many years backward."
Speaking at a police ceremony in Netanya, Dichter added that "the pipe bomb that was planted yesterday should be viewed as a bomb meant to kill. The law enforcement authorities will not rest until the terrorists are put where they belong ? in prison."
Police suspect Jewish extremists of having carried out the pipe bomb attack earlier in the day. Sternhell walked out of his home in a quiet Jerusalem neighborhood shortly after midnight to shut a courtyard gate when the bomb went off, lightly wounding him in one of his legs, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
"We believe the background is ideological," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Sternhell, an internationally renowned expert on the history of fascism, was awarded the country's highest honor, the Israel Prize, earlier this year. The award drew fire from West Bank settlers and their supporters, who unsuccessfully petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to try to block it.
Sternhell himself spoke from his hospital bed at Jerusalem's Shaarei Tzedek hospital Thursday evening, warning that "if this act was not committed by a deranged person but by someone who represents a political view, then this is the beginning of the disintegration of democracy."
"The very occurrence of the incident goes to illustrate the fragility of Israeli democracy, and the urgent need to defend it with determination and resolve," he added.
"On the personal level," he went on to say, "if the intent was to terrorize, it has to be very clear that I am not easily intimidated; but the perpetrators tried to hurt not only me, but each and every one of my family members who could have opened the door, and for that there is no absolution and no forgiveness."
Meanwhile Thursday, Kadima leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni condemned the attack saying that the incident was "intolerable, and cannot be glossed over."
At a ceremony marking the Rosh Hashanah holiday at the Foreign Ministry, Livni went on to say that "the state of Israel is a lawful state, and moreover, it is populated by a society with values. It is the responsibility of the government and the Israeli society to renounce such phenomena as soon as the rear their heads."
Earlier Thursday, Jerusalem police said they found fliers offering more than NIS 1 million to anyone who kills members of left-wing human rights organization Peace Now at Sternhell's home following the blast.
Investigators said a number of such pamphlets were found outside the home and in adjacent streets.
In the wake of the attack and the discovery of the fliers, police have beefed up security around the home of Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer.
Senior political figures also expressed outrage at the news of the attack on Sternhell, which has touched a nerve given the country's sensitive history of politically-oriented violence.
"We are returning to the dark spectacle of pipe bombs that are aimed at people, in this case against a very gifted person who never shies away from expressing his opinion," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
"We won't let any elements, from any dark corner of Israeli society, to harass people who let their clear, lucid, unique voices like that of Ze'ev Sternhell be heard," Barak said.
"The attack on Professor Sternhell is a cowardly, terrorist act of those with no sense of justice," the chairman of the Knesset's internal affairs committee, Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz, said.
"I call on the police and the Shin Bet security service to make every effort to locate the perpetrators quickly and to make sure that they be put under lock and key for many years."
"They better not talk to us about a few bad weeds," Meretz chairman Haim Oron said. "These phenomena spring up on the right-wing [of the political spectrum]."
"This thuggish and dangerous act is the result of the continuing see-no-evil approach toward the vicious violence against soldiers and police officers and anyone else who doesn't agree with the brutish section of the extreme right wing," Oron said.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, an activist with a fringe settler group calling itself the National Jewish Front, said Sternhell was an irrelevant figure and that he did not believe settlers were behind the attack. "I don't denounce this incident, but say categorically that we are not involved," Ben-Gvir said.
Settlers regularly clash with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in the West Bank, but the use of weapons against political opponents in Israel is uncommon. There have, however, been precedents. A pro-settlement extremist shot and killed Rabin in 1995 as he spearheaded efforts to strike a peace deal with the Palestinians. Another extremist killed a member of Peace Now with a grenade at a 1983 peace protest.
Sternhell frequently writes for Haaretz and was awarded the Israel Prize in political science in February 2008.
Recently, Sternhell has received threatening phone calls. Police assess that the background for the attempt to harm Professor Sternhell is politically motivated. They suspect that right-wing activists carried out the attack in response to his remarks decrying Israeli settlers.
Five months ago, the High Court of Justice deferred a petition by the Legal Forum for the State of Israel against the decision to award the Israel Prize in political science to Sternhell.
The petition condemned Education Minister Yuli Tamir and the judicial committee who awarded Sternhell the prize. Sternhell, the petition claimed, was not deserving of the prize because of his remarks in the media, specifically an article he wrote in Haaretz which justified an attack by Palestinians on settlers.
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