Incitement task force to probe Barak, Golan after calls for anti-overhaul uprising

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An official task force will investigate if former prime minister Ehud Barak and ex-Meretz MK Yair Golan can be charged with incitement for comments urging anti-government protests, according to Hebrew media reports Tuesday.

Both men have called for a non-violent uprising to stop the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary to shift power away from courts, which the pair and other critics say will destroy Israel’s democracy.

Golan and Barak responded with defiance to reports of the probe, defending their remarks and vowing to keep fighting against the government’s plans for the judiciary.

The Ynet website said the two would be investigated by a special task force set up by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, consisting of representatives of the police, the Shin Bet security agency, the military and the National Cyber Directorate.

Ben Gvir originally announced the formation of the task force in February with the stated aim of combating Palestinian incitement to terror.

Once the task force completes its work, it is expected to recommend to prosecutors to either pursue charges or drop the case, Channel 12 news reported.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, February 25, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Golan appeared to shrug off the probe, telling the network “let them investigate whoever they want to investigate.”

“Civil revolt is not an exaggeration,” Golan said. “We have to fight for democracy.”

Earlier in the day, he said protesters were willing to break the law to battle the government’s plans.

“We will present unequivocal and clear civil resistance, and if we have to reach a large-scale and non-violent protest, that is what we will do. I am calling here, within a reasonable framework and without resorting to violence – to do illegal things as well,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

“In the fight for democracy, you have to do non-violent things that are on the fringes of the law – there is no choice but to do it,” Golan insisted and said examples could be drawn from other countries on “how to fight a dictatorship.”

The ruling Likud party called on police to open an investigation into Golan.

“Yair Golan’s inciting and seditious words require an immediate investigation – today,” the party said in a statement. “Those who violate the law and call for the violation of the law must pay a price, otherwise the rule of law has no meaning.”

Likud demanded that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara “take a strong hand against the violators of law and order, the inciters and the rebels, who seek to sow dangerous trouble in the heart of Israeli society.”

Responding to the probe into alleged incitement, Barak tweeted “This is not suspected rebellion. This is an attempt at political intimidation of the inferior variety practiced by rotten regimes.”

The probe, he said, is “an attempt to scare Yair, me and you. So I have news for Netanyahu and Ben Gvir: we are not afraid of anyone or anything.”

People protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Barak, who led the Labor Party at the time, was prime minister from 1998 to 2001. He later served as defense minister under Netanyahu. Golan, a former deputy IDF chief of staff, was a Knesset member from 2019 until last year, when Meretz failed to enter parliament.

On Saturday night Barak spoke at what has become a major weekly anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv and urged “revolt” and “non-violent civil disobedience.”

The following day, Netanyahu shared a post by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who called for Barak to be investigated for “sedition” while noting the crime has a punishment of up to five years in prison.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered Tuesday outside the home of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is spearheading the overhaul, with six arrested amid scuffles with police.

Netanyahu claimed the scenes outside Levin’s home were “a direct result of the calls for rebellion and a civil uprising,” a reference to Barak to Golan.

Widespread protests against the coalition’s broad judicial overhaul have taken place regularly, joined by a chorus of academic, judicial, diplomatic, economic and opposition political voices that warn that the coalition’s plan will threaten Israel’s liberal democratic system of governance.

Negotiations between the coalition and opposition to reach an agreement on the legislation, facilitated by President Isaac Herzog, have broken down, with the government now planning to plow ahead without seeking consensus.

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