Israel’s Radical Left Is Angry; Will It Turn to Violence?

Escalating rhetoric, menacing protests, and a growing sense of despair: Is Israel’s radical left edging toward violent eruption?

Growing anger (Archive photo/Pixabay)

Recent weeks in Israel saw a series of left-wing threats to resort to violence. Police in the north arrested a man suspected of threatening to murder Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and encouraging others to do so.

Investigators in the police cyber unit detected the suspect’s social media posts and tracked him down. As it turns out, he was a low-ranking member on the Labor Party’s slate in the last Knesset election.

Earlier, police questioned three leftist activists on suspicion of threatening Netanyahu’s son, Yair. One of them made an implicit threat at a recent rally, using a loud speaker. “One day you will be without your bodyguards, and then…who knows?” he said in addressing the PM’s son.

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Notably, dozens of supporters greeted the activist at court. The suspect later claimed that his remarks were uttered in the heat of the moment, and that he has no intention of resorting to physical violence.

Militant Tone at Leftist Rally

Meanwhile, protests against the newly formed Israeli government have taken a menacing tone. A video circulating on social media showed black-clad leftists in Jerusalem standing in military-style formation and chanting in unison (see below). The protesters said that they are protecting Israeli democracy.

Some observers wrote that the image was reminiscent of fascist militias in 20th Century Europe. The comparison may be exaggerated, but images from the rally nonetheless provoked deep unease. One person who was present said that he returned home fearful after a protester told him that “this is meant to be scary, so everyone knows we will be fighting.”  

A commentary in weekly paper Makor Rishon pointed out that Israel’s leftist camp is gradually replacing its traditional red colors with black, most notably in the black flag protests against the new government. The radical left’s embrace of black reflects a growing sense of fury and despair, the commentary said.

The outrage and frustration have been building up for some time. Leftists were never big fans of Netanyahu, but have been increasingly demonizing him since he formed a hard right government in 2015. By now, critics often accuse the PM of turning Israel into a tyranny.

Meanwhile, some critics regularly compare Netanyahu and other right-wing leaders to fascists and Nazis. Such rhetoric appears both on social networks and in mainstream left-leaning media. Some could see such grave charges as a call for strong resistance that justifies an extreme response.

Leftist Fringe Approves of Violence

Historically, political violence in Israel tends to come from the right. A far rightist assassinated PM Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and in 1983 a radical activist killed a left-wing protester in Jerusalem. However, the increasingly hateful and threatening discourse on the left suggests that the potential for leftist violence is growing.  

A recent poll by The Israeli Congress found that violent impulses are still more prevalent on the right. According to the study, 13.5% of rightists are willing to resort to violence against leftists, while only 3.5% of left-wingers see it as an acceptable option, Maariv daily reported. Still, this indicates that fringe elements on the left are open to violent acts.

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The recent formation of a unity government may serve to mitigate some domestic tensions, but deep resentments persist on both sides. Moreover, right-wing parties still dominate the new coalition, boosting the sense of leftist desperation. Eventually, this dangerous combination of growing despair, fury, and radical rhetoric could spark extreme action.