The Israeli government made good on its warnings against the extremist Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement on Tuesday, as a Yerushalayim District Court sentenced its leader, Raed Salah, to 11 months in prison for incitement.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly singled out the organization in a recent speech for provoking violence. And a Shin Bet official told the cabinet earlier this month that the Islamic Movement and Hamas were the main culprits backing the current wave of terror.
The decision to prosecute Salah comes with a certain risk, however, that it will itself inflame the situation further.
Salah made the most of a court hearing two weeks ago, in which he shouted, “In spirit and blood we will defend al-Aqsa.”
That hearing was attended by Arab MKs and other Arab leaders, a sign of Salah’s influence.
Prof. Lawrence Rubin, a Middle East expert from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said, “This is ‘Salah’s moment’ because his powerful mobilizing symbol for years has been al-Aqsa.”
But he noted pragmatic considerations that could mitigate the cleric’s willingness to openly incite to violence.
“Salah still has to maintain a delicate balance because the Israeli authorities could shut down many of his financial operations he uses to fund his social welfare programs, mosque activities and so on,” he said.