Netanyahu: Price Tag Attacks Cannot Be Compared to Hamas Terror

PM supports designation as 'forbidden organization' but opposes classification as terror, claiming it would increase Israel's delegitimization and damage its international standing.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes the idea of declaring the perpetrators of price tag attacks part of a terrorist organization, because they should not be compared to terror organizations such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, a minister present at a meeting of the security cabinet said on Sunday.

The security cabinet decided at the meeting that perpetrators of “price tag” attacks against Palestinians or their property can be declared a forbidden organization by the defense minister, similar to the charities linked to terror groups.

According to the minister, who asked to remain anonymous as the meeting was classified, Netanyahu said that even if declaring price tag activists as part of a terror organization was correct from a domestic standpoint, it would be a diplomatic mistake to do so. Netanyahu explained that such a declaration would damage Israel’s international standing, increase its delegitimization and encourage various groups across the world to compare price tag attacks to rocket fire or Hamas suicide attacks.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch voted against the decision and argued that the perpetrators of price tag attacks should be classified as members of a terrorist organization. In the end, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni voted against the decision, despite her previous position that price tag attacks should be classified as terrorism.

The designation would give both the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service broader powers to collect intelligence and investigate such incidents under the Defense ‏(Emergency‏) Regulations. But the move falls short of the suggestion by Livni, Aharonovitch and the Shin Bet that price tag cells be declared terror organizations.

Declaring a group a terror organization requires a cabinet vote, while the defense minister can declare a group a forbidden organization on his own. It is believed Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon will not hesitate to take such action against price tag attackers.

Under the emergency regulations promulgated by the British Mandate government in 1945 and incorporated into Israeli law after the state was founded, a forbidden organization is “any group of people, whether organized or not organized, going by whatever name, which suggests, incites or encourages the eradication of the Israeli constitution or the Israeli government by force or violence, causing a holocaust or contempt, or incitement to hostility, against the government of Israel or one of its ministers in his official capacity, the destruction of government property or an attack or act of terror aimed at the Israeli government or its employees.”

If the defense minister declares a group a forbidden organization, the property, real estate or bank accounts of the group or any of its members can be confiscated. It also allows the security forces to use more aggressive tactics against its members and may lead to heavier sentences in court.

The Knesset is in the process of legislating a new anti-terror law that would replace the obsolete ordinance that’s on the books. An announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office noted Sunday that unrelated to the security cabinet’s decision, “the justice minister will continue to promote the anti-terror bill, which will also deal with this phenomenon [price tag attacks].”

Prime Minister Netanyahu apparently did not want price tag perpetrators labeled terrorists for fear it would cause a rift with the Habayit Hayehudi party as well as Likud MKs.

The scene of a price tag attack at the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem in May.Credit: Emil Salman
A Catholic monk standing in a doorway of the Latrun Trappist Monastery where vandals spray-painted with anti-Christian and pro-settler graffiti, Sept. 4, 2012.Credit: AP

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