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Israel: Netanyahu claims 'election fraud' as new government prepares to form

Israeli premier denies inciting violence after intelligence services assign protection to opposition MPs
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a briefing at the Hakirya military base in Tel Aviv, on 19 May 2021 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned what he branded the "biggest election fraud in the history of the country" as a group of opposition parties prepare to form a government to unseat the premiere.

Speaking to a gathering of members of his Likud party on Sunday, he lashed out at his opponents, accusing them of trying to shut down right-wing politics in Israel.

He described the new government, which is set to feature far-right lawmaker Naftali Bennett as its prime minister, as a “dangerous left-wing government” backed by “terror supporters” and said they would be incapable of standing up to Israel's enemies.

“This is a government that will not be able to resist the return of the United States to the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, which will allow it to develop an arsenal of nuclear bombs that will threaten our very existence,” he said.

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"A government that depends on supporters of terrorism will also not be able to act in a systematic and consistent manner against the terrorist organisations in Gaza.”

Bennett and a number of other opposition politicians have been assigned protection from Israeli intelligence services after a rise in aggressive rhetoric on social media that the Shin Bet agency said could be seen as incitement to violence.

Netanyahu said he "condemned violence from every side, even as others are silent as incitement rages against us" but said there were double standards being applied.

"You cannot consider criticism from the right as incitement and criticism from the left as a legitimate act of freedom of expression. This is an attempt to frame the right as something violent and dangerous to democracy,” he said.

Shared hostility

In power for 12 consecutive years, Netanyahu faces being toppled by a motley coalition of lawmakers united only by their shared hostility towards him.

Mired in a court battle on corruption charges that could see him face prison time, the veteran political mastermind has mobilised his supporters to peel off defectors ahead of a confirmation vote.

On Saturday, the head of Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency Nadav Argaman issued a rare public statement warning of a "severe escalation in violent and inciting discourse" on social media.

"This discourse could be understood by certain groups or individuals as enabling illegal violence that could even cost a life," Argaman said, calling on public officials to "issue a clear call to stop this discourse".

A spokesperson for the Shin Bet would not tell AFP whether Argaman was referring to a certain group or person being threatened, merely saying: "This is a general atmosphere that must stop."

Politicians opposing Netanyahu and some local media outlets, however, have interpreted Argaman's statement as a warning to the premier.

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