Lapid: Extremism probes must not supersede free speech

12:45 07/07/2004 By Haaretz Service and The Associated Press Justice Minister Yosef Lapid on Wednesday cautioned that a desire to investigate extremist threats must not supersede the right to free speech. Lapid’s comments came in reto warnings by Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter and Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi this week that an extremist threat is brewing on the right in reto the government’s disengagement plan. In an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, Hangebi gave no indication of concrete evidence indicating a specific threat.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was scheduled to hold a meeting with Dichter on Wednesday to discuss how to counter a growing threat of violent extremism, but the meeting was postponed to next week. Lapid said the justice system takes reports of the threats seriously, but that he doesn’t know of any concrete information that led to the warnings supplied by Dichter and Hanegbi. „There are two things that, of course, clash,” Lapid told Army Radio. „On one hand, we must relate with utmost gravity to the threats that come from all sides these days … On the other hand, it must not be that under pressure, in a panic, we damage the right of people to express themselves.” Mazuz and Dichter are due to discuss what kind of concrete threats exist at the moment and how the justice system can deal with the situation, Justice Ministry spokesman Yaakov Galanti said. Mazuz called the meeting because „he wants to hear, he wants to know, he wants to examine the things,” Galanti said. Hanegbi: ‘The feeling is not good’ Hanegbi said Wednesday his warning was based on Dichter’s comments to the cabinet on Sunday, in which the Shin Bet chief said there was evidence of rising extremism on the right. The comments sparked a controversy that led to a Knesset plenum debate Tuesday on the issue. Hanegbi told Channel Two on Tuesday he believes an extreme right-winger has already decided to commit a political assassination to prevent the government from carrying out the disengagement plan. „I have no doubt that there are people who have already decided that they will ‘save the people of Israel’ and will assassinate a minister, the prime minister, an army officer or a police officer,” Hanegbi said. But when Hanegbi was asked about the basis of his comments in an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, he spoke more about a „feeling” and a „suspicion” than of any kind of specific threat. „There’s an atmosphere of incitement, of extremism among the population opposed to the disengagement plan,” he said. „I can definitely say that my feeling – which is supported by the documents I have read in the last few weeks and months – [is that] the feeling is not good.” Hanegbi said he had „no doubt” that someone, somewhere, was planning an attack. „The suspicion is always of the one lone attacker sitting in an innermost room who takes upon himself the burden of ‘redeeming Israel,’ and carries out an act.” The shadow of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination by right-wing extremist Yigal Amir hung over Hangebi’s comments. „We have learned the lessons of the incidents of 1995,” he said. „I think this time – unlike 1995 – the Shin Bet security service is already aware of its responsibility and of the resources available to stop this murderer before he gets to the prime minister’s back.” Hanegbi, who opposes the disengagement plan himself, also called on leaders of the nationalist camp to issue a clear statement to „remove from the consensus” talk of permitting settlers to hit soldiers or policemen trying to evacuate them. Carmi Gillon, who served as head of the Shin Bet when Rabin was assassinated, said Wednesday that Hanegbi was right about an impending extremist threat. „The next murder is on the doorstep,” Gillon, who is now mayor of Mevasseret Zion, told Army Radio. But Shin Bet sources told Army Radio on Wednesday there was no concrete intelligence information regarding threats against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or any minister.