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Israeli Defense Chief Fears Assassination or ‘God Forbid, a Civil War’

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Israeli opposition leaders said they have received death threats in response to their plan to form a government that would oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Washington Examiner reported.

“This is the time for all public leaders to come out in an unequivocal call against every threat, whatever the democratic decisions are,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, The Times of Israel reported. “We all need to respect them and avoid sparking a dispute — let alone, God forbid, a civil war.”

Right-wing politician Naftali Bennett announced his plan Sunday to deliver the necessary votes to form a government with center-left opposition leader Yair Lapid, which sparked an uproar in Israel, according to the Washington Examiner.

Netanyahu accused him of making a self-interested play for the prime minister’s office at the expense of Israeli security, but the opposition leaders denounced Netanyahu with thinly veiled references to allegations he was responsible for former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s death at the hands of a right-wing extremist who opposed the Oslo Accords.

“That fact that elected officials are being threatened over taking part in democratic processes raises a great concern that we have not learned the lesson, neither from the Jewish history of baseless hatred, nor from the murder of Rabin,” Gantz said.

Rabin was assassinated in 1995 after negotiating with the Palestinian Liberation Organization to establish the Palestinian Authority in an attempt to advance a two-state solution to the long-running war between Palestinian militants and Israeli security forces.

Yigal Amir, a Jewish law student, was convicted of murdering him and is serving a life sentence in prison, NPR reported.

Rabin’s widow blamed Netanyahu for the killing, as the then-opposition leader had begun a campaign to displace Rabin on a platform of opposition to his approach to the peace process. Netanyahu, who went on to win the prime minister’s office for the first time in 1996, eulogized his fallen rival. But such public statements never have put to rest the argument his views about the putative imprudence of Rabin’s approach had stoked murderous animosity toward his rival.

Lapid and other opposition leaders struck a similar note.

“We’ve all been threatened with violence and murder,” Lapid said, accusing Netanyahu of giving “a dangerous and unhinged speech” in response to Bennett’s announcement.

Netanyahu argued Sunday that Bennett’s plan represents “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state.”

The longtime Israeli leader is on the brink of political catastrophe, but disagreements between the coalition partners and pressure from angry right-wing voters could still cost the opposition bloc the parliamentary votes needed to strike a power-sharing bargain, the Examiner reported.

“That’s our first test: To see if we can find smart compromises in the coming days to achieve the greater goal,” Lapid said, adding, if they succeed, “suddenly it will be quieter, ministers will go to work without inciting, without lying, without trying to instill fear all the time.”

Bennett and his deputy in the Yamina party are under enhanced security protection, according to Israeli media. “The two Yamina leaders now receive a ‘security basket’ from the Knesset, which includes guards at their homes, personal security, and increased police in their residential areas. Bennett has also been issued an armored car,” The Jerusalem Post reported. “No police investigation is currently underway on suspicion of incitement, and an investigation can only be ordered by the state attorney or the attorney general.”

Netanyahu’s rivals, from both the left wing and the right wing of the prospective coalition, blamed him for that situation.

“I heard my name spoken many times last night in Netanyahu’s speech, a speech of hatred and incitement against anyone who disagrees with him,” Labor Party Chairwoman Merav Michaeli said. “Then, I saw the signs at demonstrations by Netanyahu’s supporters, signs with very dangerous words of incitement and hatred, words that were directed against left-wingers and right-wingers, terrible words that remind us of dark times, the same words we saw in the incitement campaign against Yitzhak Rabin, which to a very large extent continues until this very day.”

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