In Israel, concerns about stifling of dissent

The Washington Post reports: The writing was on the walls.

Death threats, spray-painted in red letters, covered the stairwell leading to the apartment of Hagit Ofran, an activist who monitors Israeli building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for the anti-settlement group Peace Now.

“Hagit Ofran, R.I.P.,” said one message. “Ofran, Rabin is waiting for you,” said another, referring to Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing extremist opposed to his peace efforts with the Palestinians. The graffiti were discovered on Nov. 8, a day before Israel commemorated the Jewish calendar anniversary of Rabin’s death.

Ofran, 36, who prefers to work quietly in Peace Now’s unmarked office, was thrust uneasily into the limelight. The graffiti threats, following a similar incident at her home in September, generated intense media attention and were seen as emblematic of the extremist challenge to Israeli democracy and the unlearned lessons of the Rabin assassination.

Responding to a question in parliament this week about the threats against Ofran, the Israeli minister of public security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, acknowledged that the authorities were worried about the possibility of another political killing. “The concern exists,” said Aharonovitch, who is from the rightist Yisrael Beiteinu party. “The concern is about the whole political spectrum.”

Yet much of the political violence in recent months has come from the extreme right, in the form of what militant Jewish settlers call “price tag” attacks on Palestinian mosques, cars, olive groves and fields in the West Bank in response to moves by the Israeli authorities to raze or remove unauthorized settlement outposts in the area.

The attacks have also spread to Israeli targets. A dozen vehicles in an army base in the West Bank were damaged in September, a mosque in an Israeli Arab village was torched in October, and a day before the defacing of Ofran’s apartment building, a bomb threat was made against the Peace Now office in Jerusalem. In all three cases, the words “price tag” were spray-painted on the targets.

The threats have come as rightist members of parliament are working to advance legislation that would restrict or heavily tax donations by foreign governments to Israeli non-profit groups. Critics call the move an attempt to cripple human rights organizations and leftist groups such as Peace Now that challenge the policies of Israel’s right-leaning government, particularly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Another proposed bill would impose restrictions on access to the Israeli Supreme Court by human rights groups seeking to challenge alleged violations by the authorities.

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