Shin Bet Head Warns: Online Incitement, Calls for Violence Could Lead to Physical Harm

The Shin Bet chief called on politicians, enforcement forces, religious leaders, educators and citizens to take responsibility for their words and stop the incitement

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Shin Bet's head Nadav Argaman, in 2019.
Shin Bet's head Nadav Argaman, in 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

Shin Bet Chief Nadav Argaman warned against incitement on Saturday, saying that it could lead to someone being physically harmed, as vitriol surrounding the political situation in Israel reaches a high point.

Though the Shin Bet chief did not name him specifically, Argaman was referring primarily to threats against Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett and other members of his party, following their decision to enter into a government with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid and other parties seeking to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Thursday, the Shin Bet assigned a security detail to Bennett for the first time, after Bennett and Lapid announced they had formed a government. This move is unusual as Israel’s internal security service only protects the prime minister, president and leader of the opposition.

Argaman said in his statement that "Israel was built on the principle of free speech. It is important and necessary in a democratic nation. However, recently we have identified a grave increase and intensification in violent and inciting discourse, particularly on social media." Argaman added, "this discourse includes grave statements, using strong, hateful language, and even calls for physical attacks." 

"As someone who leads an organization meant to protect the nation's security, democratic regime and institutions, I am calling and warning that this discourse may be interpreted by certain groups or lone wolves as permission for violence and illegal activity that could lead to physical harm," Argaman said.

Argaman called on politicians, law enforcement, religious leaders, educators and citizens to take responsibility and help ease tensions. "The obligation to calm tensions and to restrain the discourse falls on all of our shoulders," Argaman said.

Sources in the defense establishment told Haaretz that Argaman has gone beyond his public statements, and has passed information to the police identifying people suspected of inciting political violence for investigation. According to the sources, the Shin Bet also passed on warnings regarding calls to physically attack the prime minister.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on "everyone to refrain from any sort of violence." Gantz added that public leaders hold a special responsibility and that Israel "has not learned from past events."

On Monday, Gantz said that Israelis had not learned any lessons from the 1995 assassination Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Gantz's statements came amid rise in threats against Naftali Bennett and his second-in-command, Ayelet Shaked.  

Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg said, “The statement by the Shin Bet chief is a big wake-up call to Netanyahu and those close to him to put an immediate end to the machinery of hatred that has led to such extremes as threats against elected officials, and the need to assign them security detail."

"(This machinery of hatred) could also escalate to actual violence and even murder,” she added.

Likud lawmaker Israel Katz tweeted on Saturday his support of Argaman's statement. "We can hold a profound debate without crossing dangerous lines," he tweeted.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich also commented on the Shin Bet chief's statement, saying his party is also "against violence."

"We are also against the political violence perpetrated by Bennett," who is "stealing the election" and "violating all his election promises," he added.

Smotrich also lashed out at Argaman personally, asking him "where he was" in last month's riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

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