Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Monday that he will receive round-the-clock protection following threats of harm from extremist Israeli Jews.
The news comes amid a sharp increase in attacks targeting Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, which Barlev had criticized in recent discussions with a visiting U.S. State Department official. His remarks drew the ire of right-wing politicians in the country, including members of the coalition government in which he serves.
“Jews are stabbed and shot in the streets, because they are Jews, on your shift, and you dare to talk about settler violence?” Simcha Rothman, an ultraconservative Israeli lawmaker, tweeted in response to Barlev this month.
Israeli authorities also arrested a man accused of threatening Barlev on Facebook by saying that he hoped to see the minister “lynched,” according to the Times of Israel newspaper. At least one other senior official has also reportedly received increased protection as the coalition government pushes ahead with changes that threaten privileges long enjoyed by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Barlev, a member of the left-leaning Labor Party, suggested that he had expected threats from “Arab criminals” that he had targeted. “But that is not the case,” he wrote on Twitter. “I am threatened by Israeli Jews.”
At a recent party meeting, Barlev also criticized the right-wing Yamina party, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, of turning him into “the enemy of all settlers, and one who doesn’t understand security and terrorism by Palestinians,” the Associated Press reported.
The security chief’s criticism of “settler violence” is significant because both Barlev and his father have held important positions in the country’s defense establishment, said David Makovsky, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The announcement that Barlev needs regular protection shines “a spotlight on a growing phenomenon that can no longer be ignored as the actions of just a handful of unruly youths,” Makovsky added.
Barlev and Yamina did not return requests for comment early Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the Israeli government could not immediately be reached for comment.
The West Bank has in recent months seen a spike in beatings, arson, vandalism and rock-throwing — most taking place where Palestinian farms and groves are next to Jewish settlements established on land captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The United Nations Security Council has called such settlements a violation of international law, and some leaders of Israel’s governing coalition have called for a crackdown on violence by settlers.
‘Hate crime’ attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians spike in the West Bank
Videos compiled by rights groups suggest that Israeli soldiers, who are tasked with providing security in these neighborhoods, do little to intervene in violent incidents. Some watchdogs also allege that Israel Defense Forces members have, in some cases, aided in such attacks. The IDF says such allegations are false.
Last month, Commanders for Israel’s Security — a group of more than 300 retired Israeli military, security and intelligence officials — delivered a letter to members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, decrying settler violence against Palestinians as a threat to the rule of law and the country’s international standing.
Bennett’s government has approved the construction of some 3,000 new homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The country has also designated six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations.