Barak: Death Threats Won't Stop Enforcement of Settlement Freeze

Defense minister says 'not afraid of anyone'; Barak's deputy: We can't sit idly by rightist threats.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that he would continue to enforce the government's decision to halt construction in the West Bank, despite receiving multiple death threats apparently from settlers angry over the temporary freeze.

"I suggest we all avoid generalizations," the defense minister told a Tel Aviv University audience, in his first public response to the threats. "I assume that this does not represent the people in Judea and Samaria, or any other marginalized group."

We must be clear," he said. "This country has an elected government. When a government makes a decision, that decision must be implemented. Citizens can vote against a government, or demonstrate, but the authority of a government over its citizens is the cornerstone of democracy."

"As defense minister, I intend to continue enforcing the government's decision with utmost responsibility, but also with determination," he added. I am a messenger of every citizen of this state, and everyone knows that I wouldn't step on a fly if I don't have to, and I am not afraid of anyone." Despite this, the defense minister was accompanied by an unusually large number of bodyguards during the address.

Barak's deputy: We can't sit idly by in face of rightist threats

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai reacted angrily earlier Wednesday over reports that far-rightists had sent threatening letters to the former prime minister over his role in the government's freeze of construction in West Bank settlements.

"We cannot sit idly by and watch the threats and attempts at intimidation from extremists who try to harm the nature of the democratic regime and social unity in Israel," Vilnai said.

"Israeli citizens need to remember that the defense establishment is implementing a cabinet decision that was reached by every member of the cabinet and not by an individual minister here or there," said Vilnai, who like Barak is a veteran of the Labor Party.

"I hope that leaders from the entire political spectrum will express a clear stance against criminals who try to harm representatives of the state," he said.

"We've already lived through periods of threats that reached horrific acts which harmed the state, its citizens, and national unity," Vilnai said. "I am hopeful that whoever isn't satisfied with government decision of this kind will act solely in democratic ways."

Right-wing activists: Reports of threats exaggerated

Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right activist, said reports of the threats were greatly exaggerated.

"This is media spin," Ben Gvir said. "Next they will claim that [Barak's] Filipino housekeeper also received threatening letters."

Ben Gvir was referring to recent revelations that Barak had employed a woman from the Philippines who did not have proper authorization to remain in the country.

"Every time the defense minister is entangled in a personal issue he rolls over on the settlers and claims that there are threats on his life," said settler leader Itzik Shadmi. "These threats are written to all sorts of members of Knesset by all sorts of foolish people. Nobody thinks this is serious. He is exploiting the opportunity and it's a shame."