Af­ter Cam­paign in Gaza, Is­rael Plans To Tar­get the Rad­i­cal Is­lamic Move­ment

Forward Magazine - - News - By Nathan Jef­fay Con­tact Nathan Jef­fay at jef­fay@ for­

Once Is­rael com­pletes its lat­est mil­i­tary cam­paign in Gaza against Ha­mas, the govern­ment has its sights set on a do­mes­tic en­emy who shares the Is­lamist group’s ide­ol­ogy and aims.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu an­nounced at the end of June that he is work­ing on crim­i­nal­iz­ing the Is­lamic Move­ment, a rad­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion based in­side Is­rael’s pre-1967 borders.

The Is­lamic Move­ment pro­motes Is­lam among Arab cit­i­zens of Is­rael through its so­cial, re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. It split back in the 1990s, when the south­ern branch ac­cepted the Oslo peace process. This branch is seen as rel­a­tively mod­er­ate and par­tic­i­pates in the Is­raeli demo­cratic process, form­ing part of the United Arab List, which has three seats in the Knes­set.

By con­trast, the north­ern branch boy­cotts Is­raeli pol­i­tics and re­fuses to stand for the Knes­set. It re­jected the Oslo process, and fol­lows a hard-line agenda. Its main fo­cus is wel­fare and po­lit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, and the high­light of its cal­en­dar is an an­nual rally where it trum­pets claims that Is­rael plans to de­stroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The leader of the Is­lamic Move­ment’s north­ern branch, Raed Salah, served two years in an Is­raeli prison for rais­ing mil­lions of dol­lars for Ha­mas. He has been banned from vis­it­ing the United King­dom as well as be­ing charged in Is­rael for in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence af­ter al­legedly mak­ing blood li­bel claims. While there are no re­li­able es­ti­mates of how many people sym­pa­thize with it, the group at­tracts tens of thou­sands of people to its “Al-Aqsa Mosque in Dan­ger” rally — one of the key events that would be halted if the group were de­clared il­le­gal.

The cat­a­lyst for Ne­tanyahu’s planned crack­down came dur­ing the search for the miss­ing Jewish teenagers in June, when calls were heard at a rally in the north­ern Is­rael city of Umm al-Fahm for the ab­duc­tion of soldiers. While the protest wasn’t or­ga­nized by the Is­lamic Move­ment, it took place in its heart­land.

Ne­tanyahu de­clared: “In many cases, those be­hind such calls and demon­stra­tions are from the north­ern branch of the Is­lamic Move­ment. It con­stantly preaches against the State of Is­rael, and its people pub­licly iden­tify with ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Ha­mas.

“There­fore, I di­rected the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to con­sider declar­ing the north­ern branch of the Is­lamic Move­ment an il­le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion. This would give the se­cu­rity au­thor­i­ties sig­nif­i­cant tools in the strug­gle against this move­ment.”

The ac­tual process for the ban will take place through Is­rael’s le­gal sys­tem, and govern­ment lawyers will need to put for­ward a case to sup­port it, high­light­ing how ex­actly its ac­tiv­i­ties fall foul of the law. The govern­ment is ex­pected to al­lege links with ter­ror­ist groups and to sub­stan­ti­ate its case with these al­le­ga­tions. There was ap­plause for Ne­tanyahu’s an­nounce­ment on the Is­raeli right. Ari Briggs, a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Re­gavim ac­tivist group, told the For­ward that he sees the move as par­al­lel to at­tempts to crack down on ex­trem­ists from the Is­raeli right who per­pe­trate “price tag” at­tacks on Pales­tini­ans and their property. The Is­lamic Move­ment is “as dam­ag­ing to Jewish-Arab re­la­tions in this coun­try, if not more so, [as] the crazy people do­ing ‘price tags,’” he said.

Ah­mad Tibi, leader of the Knes­set Ta’al fac­tion and the best-known Arab in Is­raeli pol­i­tics, is fu­ri­ous, claim­ing a dou­ble-stan­dard is in oper­a­tion whereby Jewish politi­cians can say what they want while Arab ac­tivists can’t. “If par­ties were out­lawed due to a sen­tence, there would be no par­ties in Knes­set or in the coali­tion,” he told the For­ward.

Some in the Is­raeli govern­ment have pointed out that the Mus­lim

‘I think it’s bet­ter to per­mit a cer­tain de­gree of il­le­gal ac­tions of the party.’

Brother­hood, whose ide­ol­ogy the Is­lamic Move­ment rep­re­sents, is il­le­gal in states sur­round­ing Is­rael. “In all coun­tries in the re­gion they are il­le­gal, and only in Is­rael they incite and strive freely against the ex­is­tence of the state,” trans­porta­tion min­is­ter Yis­rael Katz de­clared, call­ing this sit­u­a­tion “ab­surd.” But Tibi con­sid­ers this is ir­rel­e­vant “be­cause Is­rael is claim­ing it’s a democ­racy.” He com­mented, “If you are join­ing the to­tal­i­tar­ian coun­tries’ club, you can do the same.”

Asad Ghanem, an Arab pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Haifa Univer­sity, be­lieves that out­law­ing the Is­lamic Move­ment’s north­ern branch would un­der­mine Is­rael’s demo­cratic cre­den­tials. “If you want to in­clude Arabs, not ex­clude them, you should ac­cept their po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” he said.

In his view, ban­ning the move­ment is not only un­jus­ti­fied, but also un­wise. “If they ex­clude them [and put them] out­side the bound­aries of the law, then you [can] ex­pect them to do noth­ing or to do some­thing which is from their point of view more ef­fec­tive,” he said, re­fer­ring to pos­si­ble vi­o­lent acts.

The cause-and-ef­fect dy­namic of a ban is the big ques­tion in the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment. “There is a con­tin­u­ous de­bate in se­cu­rity cir­cles as to whether to ban it and drive it un­der­ground or keep it above ground,” said Hil­lel Frisch, re­searcher at Bar Ilan Univer­sity’s Be­gin-Sa­dat Cen­ter for Strate­gic Stud­ies.

Frisch, an ex­pert on Is­lamist move­ments, said that Ne­tanyahu’s de­ci­sion ac­tu­ally runs against the grain of the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, where there is a “pretty large con­sen­sus that it’s best to keep it above ground.”

Serv­ing se­cu­rity of­fi­cials are not com­ment­ing on the sub­ject, but Shaul Shay, for­mer deputy head of the Is­rael Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, told the For­ward that he veers to­ward keep­ing it per­mit­ted. “There is no doubt that this Is­lamist party, by its def­i­ni­tion, is a hor­ri­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion, but the ques­tion is more tac­ti­cal than prin­ci­pled,” he said. “I think it’s bet­ter to per­mit a cer­tain de­gree of il­le­gal ac­tions of the party and chan­nel them into non­vi­o­lent ac­tions than to put very strong pres­sure and force them to go un­der­ground.”

He thinks that ban­ning the group could cause the ag­gres­sive­ness of its ac­tiv­i­ties to “spi­ral” and have limited im­pact, be­cause “in a dig­i­tal era, ef­fec­tive delegimiza­tion of an or­ga­ni­za­tion is limited.”


One Move­ment, Two Sides: The Is­lamic Move­ment split into two branches in the 1990s. The South­ern Branch is seen as rel­a­tively mod­er­ate, while the North­ern pur­sues a hard-line agenda, call­ing for the ab­duc­tion of soldiers dur­ing a protest at Umm-al-Fahm (above).

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