In outlawing its most strident Islamist group, Israel risks angering its largely quiescent Arab citizens as it confronts a wave of Palestinian violence powered by religious and political tensions.The relative popularity of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, banned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet on Tuesday, has troubled Israel as it tries to curb street attacks raging for the past seven weeks.Israel's internal security agency, Shin Bet, said it was a bad idea.
Leaders of the Israeli Arab minority declared a commercial strike for Thursday in protest at the ban and accused Netanyahu of scapegoating their community rather than addressing the Palestinians' grievances and statehood demands.
"Netanyahu wants to rebrand the conflict as a religious conflict," Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List faction in the Israeli parliament, said in a speech. "This is nothing more than anti-democratic, political persecution." (Reuters.)
Over the past few months, since the start of the terror wave, at least five cabinet meetings have been held over the possibility of outlawing the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. The senior official said that during the discussions, the police supported the move and the Shin Bet objected to it. The police said that outlawing the movement’s northern branch would allow the authorities to take the fullest extent of action against it, whereas the Shin Bet said that action against the northern branch and its leaders should be on the basis of evidence. “Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen explained during the cabinet meetings that the movement is very careful and walks a fine line to make it legally harder to catch them involved in terror,” the senior official said.The authorities banned it anyway.
One reason for the disagreement between the two agencies’ intelligence assessments was the effect of outlawing the northern branch on the Arab community. The Shin Bet said the move could lead to unrest, strengthen the status of the northern branch and even cause it to work underground instead of openly and publicly. However, the police claimed that even if such a decision was protested, it would not lead to riots. Ahead of some of the cabinet meetings, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan toured northern and southern police districts, where district commanders also said that outlawing the movement would not lead to unrest. (Haaretz.)