Worried about recent signs that its Arab citizens are involved in attacks against Jews, Israel has decided to intensify scrutiny of publications, organizations, individuals and funding linked to a group called the Islamic Movement. However, the government rejected recommendations by its security agencies for a tough crackdown against the organization.
Israel's measured approach reflects its desire not to be seen as persecuting the Islamic Movement, a nonviolent, home-grown organization that promotes Muslim values, or its sizable Israeli Arab membership. But by declining to take tougher measures--closing down the organization's publications, for instance, and banning travel abroad by its leaders--the government irked police officials, who reportedly view the announcement as a toothless continuation of the status quo.
"We don't intend to declare war on Israeli Arabs or the Islamic Movement," said Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, speaking after a select group of ministers and security officials announced the steps Sunday night. "What we intend to do is to inflict damage on the centers of incitement."
Members of the Islamic Movement nonetheless objected to the measures, although some expressed relief privately that they were not worse.
"Those who commit criminal deeds should be tried and punished," said Abdulmalik Dehamshe, one of two Islamic Movement members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. "But why should we look at all Arabs and all in the Islamic Movement as accused? That's not true, not democratic and not right."
Nearly 1 million of Israel's 6 million citizens are Arabs, Palestinians who remained when Israel was created in 1948. Unlike the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, they vote in Israeli elections and attend Israeli schools. Many, especially younger ones, speak fluent Hebrew.
Although it is difficult to quantify, there is a perception that among Israeli Arabs, the influence of the Islamic Movement has grown in recent years. Since the group does not advocate violence and at least some of its leaders openly accept Israel's right to exist, the government until recently has not seen the movement as a threat.
But several attacks or planned attacks in the past month by Arabs with links to the Islamic Movement have shaken the country--not least the large majority of peaceable Israeli Arabs. The attacks, including a pair of botched car bombs that killed the would-be bombers and the stabbing of a Jewish couple, are believed to have been coordinated by the militant Palestinian group called the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas.
Israeli officials say Hamas, which until now has drawn its activists from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, has lately stepped up its recruiting among Israeli Arabs.
"This is a signal to the Arab community in general and the Islamic Movement in particular," said Elie Rekhess, a scholar at Tel Aviv's Dayan Center who studies Israeli Arabs. "It's a signal of friendship, to begin with--that this government is not after confrontation, strife and violence. . . . At the same time this was a very strong statement that if someone had forgotten what the red lines are, let us remind them. I think it was well received."