The Shin Bet security service revised parts of its protocol for protecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family in the past two weeks in response to the growing protests outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street and tensions between demonstrators, police and Netanyahu supporters. Shin Bet officials are also concerned by violent attacks against anti-Netanyahu demonstrators in recent days.
While the Shin Bet has in principle instituted a policy of uncompromising, maximum security for the prime minister since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the multitude of demonstrations near the residence on Balfour Street (and one Saturday night near the Netanyahus’ family home in Caesaera) have forced certain changes. The reason is the almost-constant presence of dozens, even thousands at night, of anti-Netanyahu protesters near his residences. Normally, these people would be screened or questioned, although there are security guards and barriers separating them from the Netanyahus.
Shin Bet officials are not addressing the question of whether there is any intelligence warning of an intent or attempt to hurt Netanyahu or his family. Still, they are concerned there may be what they describe as a security incident without any prior warning that would lead to a violent confrontation near the prime minister’s residence.
There have been a few incidents in recent days in which suspected members of the extremist Beitar Jerusalem soccer team fan club, known as La Familia, violently attacked protesters while they were leaving the demonstrations in Jerusalem. On Saturday night, one person sprayed pepper spray at anti-Netanyahu demonstrators at a Ramat Gan junction, while others beat protesters at the Sha’ar Hanegev junction in the south. One of the protesters was stabbed in the neck. Two suspects in the attacks were arrested on Sunday.
Police have been the ones investigating the attacks so far, as they appear to be individual incidents with apparently no premeditation or secret planning. Still, the Shin Bet is disturbed by so-called ideological violence, displayed by radical statements supporting violence that have appeared for quite a while on social media networks. The service’s Jewish division is involved in tracking these events and analyzing trends emerging from the incidents and street demonstrations, and the risks of violence involved in them.
Netanyahu’s family has frequently complained recently about the level of security around them, claiming the police need to show a heavy hand in wake of the rising intensity of the demonstrations. His son Yair recently verbally attacked anti-Netanyahu demonstrators on his Twitter account with vulgar language, accused Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit of permitting the spilling of his father’s blood (by not ordering an investigation of some of the violent statements made against him) and claimed journalists were inciting violence against his family.
The elder Netanyahu accused demonstrators last week of spreading disease and relieving themselves in the streets and courtyards near his residence – claims his son had made on Twitter earlier using pictures from other places and times with no connection to the demonstrations. The prime minister also accused protesters of “debasing state symbols” after a demonstrator was photographed partially naked on a menorah statue. In contrast, he didn’t bother until Saturday night to condemn the violent attacks against demonstrators.
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Last week, Interior Minister Arye Dry wrote Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman to express concern about alleged anti-Netanyahu incitement. Argaman responded in a letter that the Israel Hayom daily published stating that the Shin Bet “is doing everything in its power to carry out its mission and to provide the prime minister with optimal protection.”
Argaman wrote: “Besides the responsibility placed on the service’s security personnel, I believe that publicly elected officials from across the political spectrum also bear the responsibility, including during times of ideological conflict and political differences, to avoid heated rhetoric that could be interpreted by certain groups or individuals as legitimizing the use of illegal violence, which might, heaven forbid, lead to a physical attack.”