Israel on Tuesday outlawed an Islamist group that it accuses of playing a key role in stirring up the violence of the past several weeks.
The decision by Israel’s security cabinet was accompanied by police raids on the offices of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch. Police said they closed down 17 Islamic Movement offices and seized documents, computers and froze some of its bank accounts.
“A significant number of the recent attacks were committed against the backdrop of (the Islamic Movement’s) incitement and propaganda,” said a statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office.
Netanyahu defended the actions as not being against Islam but to preserve democracy and the rule of law.
“We have nothing against Islam,” Netanyahu said. “We have nothing against the Muslim citizens of Israel, who enjoy full equal rights, and the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. But we will continue to act against inciters, and those who encourage terrorism.”
The northern branch incites to violence against innocent civilians, cooperates closely with Hamas, denies Israel’s right to exist, and calls for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in its place, he said.
Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the group’s northern branch, who was sentenced in October to 11 months in jail for incitement, reacted with defiance.
“I am proud to persist as head of the Islamic Movement and will be victorious in its name and victorious in its principles, Yerushalayim and the al-Aqsa mosque paramount among them,” Salah said in a statement.
“I will take every possible legitimate step, in Israel and internationally, to remove the measures taken against the Movement,” Salah stated.
A police spokeswoman said Salah was summoned to police headquarters to be notified formally of the ban but was not under arrest. He has not begun serving his 11-month sentence.
The movement enjoys broad support among the Israeli Arab population. Haifa University pollster Sammy Smooha said about 42 percent say they support the Islamic Movement.
The government’s move drew enraged condemnations from Arab MK’s. According to Israel Radio, MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List) called it a “declaration of war” against Israel’s Arab population, and said that the Israeli government will bear responsibility for its actions.
Fellow Joint List MK Basel Ghattas characterized the ban as “insane” and said the country deserves to be boycotted, as it has become a “fascist state.”
“Ban Zionism,” Ghattas said.